my employee blames others for her mistakes, lying about when you left your last job, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My employee blames others for her mistakes

I’m wondering how I deal with an employee who is “never in the wrong.” I try to provide constructive feedback, but she just denies that she’s done anything wrong or made any mistakes. Even when I provide concrete evidence that she’s not doing her job, she insists that she’s done it and then starts blaming other people for the issue at hand and goes on tangents about all sorts of other things that are “someone else’s fault.” I don’t know if it’s the way I’m approaching things — I usually start the conversation with something like, “I need to talk to you about X issue; I’m finding Y is happening, can we talk about your process so we can find where the disconnect is?”

Overall, the issues individually are low-stakes (think leaving file charts all over the place instead of putting them away), but collectively the issues are causing a lot more work for other people. For a variety of reasons, I can’t let her go at this moment, but it’s frustrating everyone in the office. How can I shut down this “wasn’t me” retort and have a meaningful, constructive conversation?

Name the pattern. For example: “I need to give you feedback about something, and I’d like you to just focus on listening to me, not responding just yet. I’ve noticed that when I give you feedback or ask you to do something differently, you often seem focused on why the feedback is unnecessary or telling me that others are to blame. For example, when I asked you yesterday to put away the charts, you said you had done it, even though I could clearly see they were still out, and then blamed Jane for it. I need you to be open to what I’m saying without pushing back or blaming others. I’m not interested in hearing you blame others and it’s important that you stop defaulting to that.” (In general with this approach you have to be careful that you’re not making the person feel they can never tell you when you’re actually wrong about who’s responsible for something — but in this case, it sounds like that’s outweighed by the need to stop her from so reflexively blaming someone else.)

From there, if she does it again, say, “This is an example of what we were talking about. I don’t want to hear you blame others; I want to talk about your process.” And then, because defensiveness usually comes from some kind of fear (in this case, probably fear of what will happen if she takes responsibility), use the conversation that follows to demonstrate that what happens when she accepts responsibility isn’t a bad thing — make a point of keeping your tone even, don’t sound annoyed, thank her for helping you solve the issue, etc. It’s possible that if she sees enough times that the ceiling doesn’t come crashing down on her when she takes ownership for mistakes, she’ll drop some of the automatic defensiveness. (Or not, of course! But it’s worth trying to see if it helps.)

If that doesn’t solve it, then you’d need to treat it like any other performance issue where coaching hasn’t worked.

2. I’m worried a graduate student has a serious eating disorder

I think there’s probably nothing I can do about this, but you often come up with exactly the right response to situations that would stump me, so I’m hoping you can help. I’m visiting a lab for a few days, and there is a graduate student here who visibly seems to have a severe eating disorder. I’ve never seen anyone who looks like her except in news stories about people with eating disorders.

I don’t know her at all, and she could have some other health issue instead, but based on her appearance, this woman is very, very ill. Like, maybe she should go to the hospital right now, ill. She’s sat with us for lunch the last few days, and she hasn’t eaten anything (not that that proves anything).

I know people’s health is off-limits at work and I don’t even work here, so there’s a strong argument for not getting involved at all. On the other hand, I hate the idea that this graduate student could be getting sicker and sicker to the point of dying while we all sit by and do nothing. We’re also both women in a male-dominated field, and I know how totally oblivious our colleagues can be, and I also know how getting a PhD can invisibly grind people into the ground. Then again, she could already be in treatment and in the process of recovering. The last thing I want to do is point out to her that I’ve noticed what she looks like and make her uncomfortable (but is that the same thought everyone else is having, so nobody is helping her?).

I have some basic rapport with some postdocs and professors here, and I could try to bring it up and ask if she’s doing okay, if she’s getting help? Maybe that would nudge them to notice something is up with her and step in, point her towards resources? I’m also a postdoc on a fixed-term contract, so basically every time I’m invited to visit a place I have to think about it being a possible next job for me, so I should be on interview behavior.

You’re kind to be concerned, but you should leave it alone. It’s very, very possible that she has a medical issue that’s not an eating disorder (there are a ton of medical conditions that cause significant weight loss) and/or that she’s in treatment. And if she does need help, you are not well-positioned to be the one to provide it, versus people who see her regularly and have a relationship with her. Asking a postdoc or professor about whether she’s okay or getting help would carry a high risk of being seen as overstepping.

It’s hard to feel like someone might need help and do nothing! But there’s really not enough to conclude that’s the situation here. The kindest thing you can do is to treat her normally.

3. Buzzwords on resumes

My husband is updating his résumé and hired a service to re-write his. They sent it back with the trendy corporate buzzword, “servant leader.” I am never a fan of trendy corporate speak but find that phrase especially odd and even offensive. Yep, I understand that it means he manages with employees in mind but we are all employees not servants.

The résumé service has argued to keep it but every single person I’ve floated it to has found it to be nonsense or questionable. What is your take on using buzzy corporate speak on résumés? Should my husband embrace being a servant leader or should we find another way to express that he’s a good manager?

Ugh, yes, he should not not include it. It’s a jargony buzzword that will read as filler and doesn’t belong on a resume. It’s the kind of thing people include because they’ve heard it sounds good but, when questioned about why they’re using that label, often can’t elaborate with anything particularly compelling. (I’m not saying this is the case for your husband, of course.) Also, if the resume service suggested it and it’s not something your husband himself offered up to describe his leadership style, that really proves the point — they’re not adding it there for any good reason. And if your husband doesn’t describe himself that way, it really doesn’t belong on his resume.

His resume isn’t the place for subjective self-assessment anyway; he should focus on accomplishments. If he wants to demonstrate he’s a good manager, the way to do that is to write about the results he’s achieved with that skill.

4. Coworker keeps questioning me about my work

I work in a specific field within a government agency (let’s say sorting paper). The paper sorting division has two sections, one for blue paper, and one for red paper. The blue paper division is headed by John, who has a team of about eight people under him. The red paper division is headed by Claire and has five people, including me.

The blue paper division recently had an internal meeting, after which their performance was placed under extreme scrutiny, with daily progress updates and general micromanagement.

Now a coworker from the blue division, Sarah, is constantly asking me how my own work is progressing, when my deadlines are, etc. I do not report to her, she is not a senior colleague, and my work has no bearing on her ability to function. Can I just tell her that Claire has all the necessary info for my deadlines or just plain refuse to answer?

I have to add that should John ask me directly, I will reply as necessary, as he is the person primarily responsible for our department’s report to upper levels of our agency, but generally Claire’s part of the report should be sufficient for what the higher-ups need.

Is Sarah looking for ammunition that her team is being treated less fairly than yours? Or is something else behind this?

You don’t need to answer to Sarah, but it’s possible there’s context that you’re missing that would make the questions more reasonable. So the next time she approaches you with these questions, it makes sense to reply, “This isn’t normally info we report on to your team. Can I ask why you’re asking?” If she doesn’t have a good answer that, then say, “You can always get this kind of info from Claire if you need it” (because she’s probably unlikely to go to Claire for it, but if she does then Claire can deal with it). You might also give Claire a heads-up that it’s happening because it’s odd.

5. Saying you’re still at a job that you’ve really left

What is your perspective about listing a job you are no longer employed at as current on your resume when applying to jobs, as opposed to accurately listing it? I’m asking because I’ve seen guidance elsewhere to list the job as current in this situation because if you show that you are not currently employed, you are severely cutting your chances of getting interviewed.

Furthermore, that same guidance stated that a lot of places will take at it face value that you are still at the current role and it’s worth the risk because the chances of them finding out are much lower than the chances of you not getting a call-back simply because you are not currently employed. Thoughts?

I’m asking because my wife just left her current job this month (it was a very toxic place to work and she quit to save her sanity) and is beginning to apply for roles.

As a general rule, lying on your resume is a really bad idea. It can easily be discovered in background checks and, if it is, it will take you out of the running immediately. Worse still, in some cases it’s discovered after you’ve already been in the job for a while and can be grounds for immediate firing. (For example, if you apply for a promotion, some places will re-check your past job history and find out then — and then not only are you not promoted, but you can lose the job you’re in. This is more common as you become more senior, but it is indeed a thing that happens.)

There are hiring managers who prefer to hire already-employed candidates, but it’s much less of an issue in this job market than in weaker ones. Also, your wife just left her job this month; that’s not the sort of long gap that creates concern. She’ll probably be asked why she left, but it’s not going to be a big deal or put her at any kind of significant disadvantage. But even if the job market were weaker and she’d been out of work longer, lying would be the wrong move.

{ 629 comments… read them below }

  1. TG*

    LW #4 – proceed with caution and I like the answer – point her to your boss.
    Sadly when a team is under stress rightly or wrongly I’ve seen it lead to a mindset of “CYA”
    and hunting for evidence “other do it” or “they’re responsible for us not getting x.”

    Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t let that other team under scrutiny pull your team into it. Your boss can make sure that doesn’t happen.

    1. KRM*

      Or Sarah could be searching for “what I’ve been assigned is unreasonable because it’s X for LW and we do the same job” or “LW’s boss doesn’t require LW to check in with A and B and C on the way to job completion”. LW says there’s micromanaging now, and could be that Sarah feels it’s unfair and is looking for a metric to push back. Regardless, Alison’s script is good as always. Problems Sarah might have with the new management style are not LWs to solve.

      1. yala*

        That’s the vibe I’m getting. Not even necessarily that Sarah’s looking for ammunition, just that she’s sort of…checking in with the Outside World, because when you’re in a bad situation, every now and again you need to verify to yourself that “yeah, this actually is pretty unreasonable” just for your own sanity

    2. Lynca*

      Yeah, in my experience with government agencies- you need to redirect her to your boss for this type of request.

      Sarah is fishing for information. Might be a legitimate push back purpose to show the micromanaging won’t solve the problem but it also could be to trying to find information to redirect/muddy legitimate concerns. Worst case, she twists something you say and now you’re pulled into this performance issue. I want to believe she’s just wanting to push back on the micromanaging but I have seen the later two issues happen more than once.

      Claire would be able to provide her with information and it protects you from any negative effects.

    3. Smithy*

      I would make one note, that unless the OP knows more about Sarah as being less collegial or more vindictive – I’d include being cautious with a heavy dose of being kind.

      The reason for this extra scrutiny may truly have nothing to do with what Sarah and her peers are or are not doing. The boo-boos may be issues of those above or a significant error/lapse with only one peer that wasn’t caught by management. All to say, that being under greater micromanagement and scrutiny often sucks. If you’ve had weekly 1 on 1’s and now have them daily, or need to complete additional compliance paperwork – I’ve yet to meet anyone who loves that.

      So these questions might be from a place of wondering if their team had been the wild wild west and are now becoming like other similar teams. Or if this is because of a boo-boo (that Sarah may or may not have been apart of), and is debating whether trying to apply to be on another team might escape some of this.

      Being wary of being sucked into this is very smart, but I just recommend doing that with some compassion. The end result may be that whatever scrutiny Sarah’s team is under, the higher ups at be will decide should be applied to all teams to avoid any mistakes in future. And being too closed off and suspicious won’t create an environment later to better understand what’s going on and how best to manage any newer guidelines that are more aggressive in nature.

      1. Filosofickle*

        This is where my mind went too — Sarah doesn’t have to be hunting/fishing, she could just be wondering what’s going on and trying to understand how things are supposed to work. I would be asking around, too.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      And you also need to make sure you are comparing apples to apples so to speak. It’s very possible the two teams are superficially identical, but below the surface doing different parts of the same task – and therefore have different metrics for evaluating success. This is something Claire as the manager would be in a better position to evaluate.

    5. TG*

      Yeah maybe I’m being too paranoid but I’ve seen fishing expeditions by others looking to deflect. I agreed I’d be absolutely kind for sure but stay out of it in favor of the boss.

  2. Hats Are Great*

    LW#2 — in college I had a classmate who hadn’t eating disorder, but was in recovery and in treatment. A professor called her out in public, in class, and it caused her to have a relapse and have to withdraw from the semester. Please don’t call this out! Even if she has an eating disorder, you have no idea what’s going on with her.

    1. LW2*

      LW2 here, ugh that’s so awful.

      Thanks for this advice (and Allison’s!), I needed to hear it. In the end I didn’t say anything (my visit is now over) but I felt so guilty. I kept thinking, if someone was having a heart attack, I’d take them to the hospital, right? It’s not the same, but she looked so immediately and dangerously ill.

        1. Ellen N.*

          Unfortunately, that is often not the case.

          People with eating disorders can be experts at hiding their disorders.

          Our cultural bias toward being slender often results in friends and family of eating disorder sufferers being congratulated for their weight loss.

          In many cases friends and family members of sufferers triggered the disorder via fat shaming.

      1. Moo*

        It’s worth remembering that you always have a power to be a really good colleague/peer. You’re slightly ahead of her in your career, so words of encouragement about her work or flag an opportunity to her, or even talk about your own struggles at this phase of your career to the group of students.

        You can do this regardless of someone’s health status and it will generally make a work environment better, friendlier and less stressful, which helps everyone.

        1. Dasein9*

          Yes, this! I was going to say something about it because OP mentioned that she’s a woman in a male-dominated field. It might help the student just to have someone visibly taking an interest in her work – that can help keep her at the front of faculty members’ minds and help in a number of ways that are small but impactful.

        2. Smithy*

          Absolutely this.

          Very often people don’t seek help at work for other issues in their life because they don’t necessarily know who to trust. I think it’s very easy to want to position ourselves as an immediately trustworthy source for the BIG ISSUE, but more often than not that’s exactly when we overstep or make something awkward. Focusing on demonstrating yourself as a trustworthy and/or compassionate person around work is far more likely to be a source to help on other issues.

          Making yourself an available source for letters of recommendations, sharing interesting job/opportunity postings, etc – all of that shows you as someone who remembered this student and that you care for her. In a professional way.

          I will also just make a note that the most ill and thin my father ever looked was when he was undergoing chemotherapy. He was freakishly gaunt and nauseous most of the time, so often didn’t eat at normal meal periods. He was also still in and out of work when he was able. Medical struggles and what people choose to do while going through them can really cover a wide range.

        3. BlueDijon*

          Yeah I came here to say this. I think the grad student aspect adds some really crucial context here. I think it’s actually a good example where the right thing to do here is the right thing to do in general which is just be friendly, available, and make it clear you’re a person who is available for support and advice and like someone said below, that you “see” her.

          I know you know this if you’ve been through grad school but just saying it because we can sometimes forget, grad school is wildly difficult in the best of times, and navigating power dynamics and the often toxic cultures that have been accepted in the name of what’s always been done mean that there’s so much potential for making unhealthy choices (and honestly somewhat of an expectation that you have to power through this stuff because that’s just What Grad School Is). If you are in a position to be able to signal you can be a mentor and a person to talk to, regardless of whether they have any visible signs of potentially needing help or not, it’s only a good thing.

          1. LW2*

            Yes, the grad student angle contributed to giving me pause. Also, like, I know the best thing for my career is to do nothing, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing. I’ve gone out on a limb and spoken up to intervene when grad students were being obviously bullied or not treated fairly by their advisors, but this is different.

            Maybe Allison could think of something I hadn’t thought of, so I asked more just to try to exhaust any option. She confirmed that I’m not in a position to help and not missing any obvious option, so I have some more peace of mind now.

          2. SF*

            Grad school and academia can be very harsh environments, and as Alison has said in many other columns, have very weird work cultures. I went through grad school with a peer who had the appearance and some mannerisms of a person with an ED (which they later confided in me about, after they were hospitalised and placed on long-term sick leave). For several years this student’s visable illness was politely ignored by their coworkers and no help was offered. But everyone knew. Professors, administrators, grad students. Everyone.

        4. LW2*

          This is really good advice, and if I was around longer I could have implemented it. The fact that I wasn’t in a position to establish the kind of relationship that would actually help her just reinforces the advice that doing nothing was the right thing.

          I really bristle at doing nothing bc lazy people in power in academia so often neglect to the needs of underrepresented students, but that doesn’t matter for this individual situation.

          1. Grad student*

            Chronically ill grad student here! First off I think it’s lovely that you are concerned about someone that you think needs help. However, as someone who is visiting for a brief time, you are not in a position to offer it.
            If I was presenting some visible sign of my illness, I would find it very invasive if someone I didn’t know commented upon it! You also don’t know that this student isn’t getting support. My PI and lab mates know about my situation and support me in the ways I ask for. It was the environment in my department and in my lab that made me comfortable asking for help. The pre-existing relationship also is key if, for some reason like you describe, my mentor or lab mates had serious concerns about my health. I would be more likely to hear them out if they said something than if a visitor said something.
            If you stay in academia, you can help future students by creating an environment where people feel like they can ask for help when it is needed. Be someone who cares for your department’s trainees and speaks up for their work/life balance and mental health resources. We need more people in academia (and everywhere!) that care about people as people. I am lucky to be in a department where that is the norm. You can push to make that the norm where you are when you have the power to do so, as I hope to do in the future.

      2. Anon3456*

        LW2 – i applaud your kindness.
        When I was at uni a lab assistant noticed the self harm cuts on my wrists and gently asked me if I was ok.
        Just having a relative stranger ‘see me’ and treat me with kindness broke some kind of cycle I was in. I was too ashamed to get support from family or friends.She encouraged me to seek help and I did the next day.
        Im not saying you should do this, I’m just saying that kindness from a stranger in any form can save a life.
        You are kind.

        1. LW2*

          Thank you for saying this, and for giving an example that is the most like what I saw. A lot of people on this thread are saying this could just be her naturally healthy body, and that means I somehow didn’t convey the severity of what I saw. Self harm scars is a good analogy to capture the severity of her appearance.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        A rule of thumb that helps me a little is to tell myself, “If they are awake/conscious then they can decide what is in their best interest.”

        Of course, not everyone and not every situation. The idea of this rule of thumb is to remind myself that they are not asking for help and there is no immediate medical emergency.

        It’s hard to watch that is for sure. I went through a spell where I lost a lot of weight and could not gain weight. I had all kinds of helpful people (NOT) telling me I had this or that. Sadly, what they thought of to say showed how poorly they knew me and knew what my day looked like. These were people who were supposed to be close family members.
        I got out of the job I had ( it was very physical and in high heat and with lotsa chemicals) and the weight loss stopped.

        We think we know what is going on, but it’s really good to ask ourselves, “Do I truly know?”.

        1. ecnaseener*

          That’s a great rule of thumb. The heart attack comparison doesn’t hold up for this reason, LW.

          1. LW2*

            Yes, I did say it was different. The heart attack thought was more a matter of what my gut was saying in reaction to seeing someone so sick, not a logical analogy.

        2. Sylvan*

          A rule of thumb that helps me a little is to tell myself, “If they are awake/conscious then they can decide what is in their best interest.”

          This isn’t always true, as someone with an eating disorder may not have insight into their condition, might not see their own reflection clearly, or might see the things that are frightening to others as “achievements.” However, none of this is for OP to deal with, and the most helpful thing they can do is be a good person to work with.

      4. another grad student*

        Hi LW2,

        I want to thank you for being concerned for this graduate student; we grad students don’t often get such kind consideration from colleagues. However, I also want to voice the fact that you observed only two things about this student: (1) you find her body type disturbingly thin and (2) she didn’t eat lunch on a couple occasions. These facts are not diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder, and they’re also not your business. There could be so many reasons she didn’t eat around you (most likely, she already ate or had other plans for lunch!). You settled on the right course of action by not saying anything, and hopefully being warm, kind, and considerate toward her as a colleague.

        As a fat woman, people constantly diagnose me based solely on a single fact about my body (that my size is not aesthetically pleasing/”healthy” looking to them) and you were very close to treating this poor graduate student the same way based on her body being unattractively thin to you (I’m guessing at the unattractive thing based on your wording about her). I’m so glad you didn’t say anything to her, but please, take the time to interrogate why you became so obsessed with someone else’s body looking different than you’d expect/prefer. I can tell from your actions (thinking hard about this, writing in to Alison) that you meant well and genuinely cared for this woman, but our society teaches that other people’s bodies are our business when they’re not, and especially treats women’s bodies as public property and up for public consumption/commentary in a way that’s really grotesque. I think it’s worth everyone taking the time to challenge these feelings in themselves so we can do better by others.

        1. Umbrella*

          It sounds like you might be projecting your own experiences onto the OP’s situation. Gauging whether to say something to/about a person looking very sick to the point of needing immediate medical attention is different from nosy judgements about whether a person looks attractive.

          1. Purely Allegorical*

            Agree with you Umbrella. This doesn’t seem entirely fair to the situation OP presented.

          2. another grad student*

            I looked back and agree that the language LW2 used was not as harsh as I thought about the grad student’s body; I was indeed projecting based on how I’ve seen other women treated for being “too skinny”. So I retract the sentence about her judging the grad student’s health based on her attractiveness. I still stand by the rest of the comment – we as a society, and most people, get WAY too involved with others’ presumed health when it’s none of our business and not something we can judge from the outside.

            1. Irish Teacher*

              I will say that I am an extremely “picky eater”. For this reason, I often won’t eat in situations where food is provided, because there is nothing I can eat available. I am also a bit overweight, for the same reason. It’s hard to have a balanced diet when you don’t eat so many foods. As my two “concerning” signs contradict each other, people tend not to make assumptions, but I can well imagine somebody with a similar issue being very thin and that could look worrying. Heck, I suspect even if I were on the slimmer side of average (as opposed to the heavier side of average), people would start worrying about my eating habits.

              Not saying the LW is wrong or that there isn’t a problem here, just that there are many things that can affect eating habits and weight.

            2. Starbuck*

              ” we as a society, and most people, get WAY too involved with others’ presumed health when it’s none of our business”

              Maybe in a one-on-one conversational level this is true, but I’d argue the reverse is a bigger problem – on a societal level in the US we are actually not nearly involved enough in public health! I wish that people’s individual face-to-face concerns for each other’s health were better directed towards things that actually would allow people to be heathier.

              1. Splendid Colors*

                I wish people would be more concerned about communicable diseases and less concerned about other people’s body types that they presume are unhealthy.

                Or that people would be more concerned about other people not having the resources like housing or school lunches they need to be healthy, instead of victim-blaming people for not being in high-paying jobs. Not everyone can code for top Silicon Valley companies, someone has to work at the ER or sell you groceries.

                1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                  My grandma used to tell me “we need janitors as much as we need businessmen, and probably more.” She’s also the one who taught me there’s no shame in any job.

          3. Someone else*

            As someone who is tall, slim and according to BMI charts (but not my doctor!) “underweight” I’ve had random people comment on my weight, accuse me of having eating disorders, being “concerned” or sharing their “jealousy” and yes, it’s offensive to comment on another person’s body. I don’t walk up to overweight women and ask them what they eat because I’m trying to gain weight or, tell them they have a binge eating disorder. It’s rude, intrusive and inappropriate.

            It’s never okay to comment on another person’s body and “sickly” thin might we’ll be a skewed interpretation of their natural body type.

            1. LW2*

              I don’t think so. I never said she was “sickly thin.” I said she looked very sick. I don’t want to get too graphic, but I can say that whatever was going on with her, she wasn’t just too skinny. She looked really, really sick.

              1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                I would find it incredibly difficult not to draw her aside and ask her if she’s ok. (My daughter did this for her then-boyfriend’s mother, discovered the poor woman likely had a burst appendix and rather forcibly took her to the ER. Saved her life).

                I used to be a nurse’s aide and seeing someone who is presenting as desperately ill would be almost impossible for me not to say *something*, if only to offer a sit down with a cup of coffee or other beverage. I would never do anything forcibly unless, of course, heart attack, but to let this go?

        2. LW2*

          Anon3456 brought up self-harm scars, and I think that’s a more helpful analogy for what I was visually reacting to than body weight (which was not the only way she was presenting as very sick). Maybe that can help you relate to the mind space I was in when I was struggling with my original question.

      5. Petty Betty*

        My 20 year old *looks* like he has an eating disorder. He doesn’t. He has stomach issues that cause him not to absorb nutrients, and we spent 5 years trying to get a diagnosis while he couldn’t digest food properly as his body fought him every step of the way. Any weight on him is a miracle and doctors still shrug and generally don’t bother to treat him because he’s young and his blood work is “fine” or “within acceptable range”.
        He’s been accused of anorexia, bulimia, severe alcoholism (because of his daily vomiting, so obviously the teenage him must be hungover), being a drug addict…
        It doesn’t help that all of my kids are thin and tall, and I was a small kid, with my family not gaining much in bulk until they hit their 30’s-40’s depending on the side of the family. His half-brother (father’s kid) has a different stomach condition. He also has a re-occurring heart issue that was exacerbated by covid (and he is screwed by genetics heart-wise on all sides of the family).

        I don’t eat much in public. I had bad teeth and got them replaced in the last year. I’m still learning how and what is safe to eat with them (my lower plate doesn’t fit properly thanks to my very bad jaw and slow healing). I started my new job a week after getting my new teeth. I have no intention of discussing my medical (or dental) with my coworkers. If anyone brought up my lack of eating with them, I’d shut it down pretty hard with a “I only eat with friends” or something along those lines. But, my coworkers have gotten used to my desire to be left alone at lunch time.

        1. Cat named Brian*

          Oh my gosh! My son is the same way. We’ve been to so many doctors that tell him he’s fine or it’s just stress. He literally ended up in the hospital on feeding tubes. The only thing that is that has come up is his liver looks like he’s been drinking alot. (He can’t, if he drinks he projectile vomits) The liver doctor told him he was fine… ugh.

          1. Vito*

            Liver transplant recipient here (3/19/2015). Sounds like non-alcohol Cirrhosis and/or Fatty liver disease. I had that for years (since the 1990’s) and only figured out what was going on when I started getting nose bleeds without warning. If he hasn’t had one I might suggest asking about an Endoscopy (they send a camera down the throat and take pictures to see what is going on)

        2. This-is-a-name-I-guess*

          Yeah, but as a teenage boy, it was probably good you were hounding him about his health or he would have probably vomited everyday until he was 35, if he’s anything like the teenage boys (and young men) I know! No one should have accused him of alcoholism or bulimea (sounds like some House, MD assholery), but your concern about his health is what helped him ultimately get diagnosed. Sometimes people need advocacy! But, telling a stranger their an alcoholic is not that kind of advocacy! Nor is concern trolling.

          1. Dahlia*

            I’m going to point out that Betty never said they “hounded” him about the issues, but that others harassed him. He very well could have been his own advocate.

      6. Mockingjay*

        I have a family member with an eating disorder. It is one of the most difficult diseases to treat. Eating disorders are so complex that most treatment programs and facilities offer multiday seminars to family and friends of patients to explain the different disorders, comorbidities, triggers, treatment approaches, and why there is such high rate of relapse.

        OP2, your heart is in the right place, but this is not something to delve into.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          Exactly this. My sister had anorexia and has relapsed once. The first time, she definitely looked like the definition of a person with anorexia. Trust me, she knew she had it, her family knew she had it; it was devastating. She wouldn’t listen to the people who loved her most for the longest time, so even if OP’s colleague does say something, it really is unlikely to help and, in fact based on how this “help” is provided, can actually hurt.

      7. Alexander Graham Yell*

        I have a friend who cycles between recovery and an active ED and one of the things her husband has told us (and was quoting her treatment team directly) is that the most important thing we can do is not talk about it, not encourage food or talk about dieting, because the additional pressure of knowing people are thinking about her body really messes her up and makes her even more hyper aware of it. Food is something we do not talk about beyond something like “I’m going to make myself a cup of coffee, do you want any?” and accepting her answer as something with a neutral value regardless of what she decides. I’ll be honest – some days that’s really hard. My friend is sick and I’m scared. But that’s what the professionals say, so that’s what I’m doing.

        At this stage you didn’t have that info, or even know for sure she does have an ED, but I think whether she does or not, treating food and eating as value neutral things and focusing on her work/her hobbies/her as a person is the best thing you could have done.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          And to be clear, “not talk about it” wasn’t to say we shouldn’t address the fact that she’s sick, it’s a pretty open topic of conversation when she’s up for it. But we shouldn’t talk about her body/whether it *looks* like she’s recovering based on if she’s gained weight or not because nobody needs that level of scrutiny on their body.

          1. introverted af*

            I have always wondered about this, and your perspective on it is really helpful. That makes a lot of sense – you can talk about your friends illness as she is willing (like any other illness) without talking about her eating habits, food, or her body. I appreciate you sharing this perspective.

            1. Anon Supervisor*

              I had anorexia throughout high school and college, and continue to have body issues and any body talk that’s linked with food absolutely makes me feel like others are thinking about my body in the same way I am. I love talking about food and cuisine, but when it’s tied to my body it creates a very dysphoric feeling.

        2. Academic Fibro Warrior*

          Recovering ED myself and a recent PhD student. Turns out in my 20s when I went 40 lbs underweight that I was reacting to food sensitivities by just not…eating much. When my family finally got concerned (because I ate normally around them, but that was still 5 days a week I didn’t eat but a few hundred calories a day), they collectively decided not to say anything about eating or their concerns and just started….putting food in front of me. All the time. My grandfather would go by an extra Entemanns pastry and have extra ‘coffee’ breaks with me so he could plate more food for me.

          That’s what got me on the road to recovery. Other people who noticed waxed ineloquently about how wonderful it must be to be so thin and I must feel so wonderful. I was cold and tired all the time. I was stressed and eating made me feel physically bad so much. When my husband and I got together I finally told him just to cook whenever he was hungry and I’d eat but I didn’t really (and still don’t always) know when I’m hungry. It took me 20 years to get the weight on and keep it, and another 5 to find out I have a functional digestive disorder. When a well meaning nutritionist decided I needed help in understanding and implementing a low FODMAP diet her lecture about how my eating should work….started the ED thinking again. Even though I’ve literally published about words and what they mean I don’t read well?

          My mom and I were recently discussing this and I thanked her for never making a big deal out of it. She admitted she didn’t know what to say or do so didn’t and just cooked for me a lot. It really was the best thing.

          Can’t speak for all ED experiences, but the value added to weight interpretations, even knowing we’re the object of people’s attention for our weight, is no help at all. I’m gratified to hear the AGB mentioned it as part of treatment because it’s just so helpful to not have to manage other people’s expectations regarding food and weight on top of our own differently wired system. It just makes us focus more on what are the symptoms and/or causes of our syndrome. I’ll always live with having to devote extra attention and effort to my eating, but that’s okay with me now as long as I’m being recognized for my professional achievements. Being in a PhD program is a special grind but it’s also a place of very high achievers. It’s also very lonely even for those without additional layers of things to deal with. Being her friend and valuing her for what she sees as her strengths, helping her to progress in her career, these things will help her. Being her friend will also open the door to supporting her for whatever the actual problem is. We don’t know and there are so many possibilities (my brother worked in a t-shirt graphic design shop and he lost so much weight in the summers from the heat and physical nature of screen printing). But if it is an ED, there is so little you can do directly as an acquaintance and the potential for harm is high.

      8. tennisfan*

        Guilt can be such a difficult emotion to deal with. It’s an emotion that really flattens things into black and white, when the situation is usually much more nuanced than that. Maybe try thinking of it as a “do no harm” situation. There was a definite possibility that you intervening would have made things worse. The guilt that would have come with that would have been much worse.

        1. LW2*

          That’s interesting that you say that, do you think from my letter I was seeing things as black and white? How so?

          I was certainly feeling torn. I felt selfish getting involved (inserting myself unnecessarily, my sister has an ED so maybe my own stuff is biasing me somehow, etc) and selfish doing nothing (obviously less risky for my career). I thought nothing was probably the right thing, but I guess I wanted to check there wasn’t something I hadn’t thought of.

          1. SpoonieAnon*

            Your Sister’s ED is really important context.

            You’ve made it clear in other comments that the person you’re concerned about looked really ill and it was more than natural skinniness. I believe you and am touched by your desire to be helpful.
            But it seems like your sister’s issues mean you jump to assuming that this person’s problems are also Eating Disorder and not any of the huge number of other health issues that could be causing extreme weight loss. People, including me, have given plenty of examples in comments of other possible causes. None of them are things that can be fixed by a well-meaning random work acquaintance telling you that you look too thin.
            If it’s not an Eating Disorder it’s annoying to have to “defend” yourself from being “in denial about an eating disorder” and you’re just adding to her stresses while she’s already ill. If it is an Eating Disorder and your not her Doctor or a close freeing/family me,her who’s in this for the long haul it’s still adding to her stresses and is likely to backfire in all the ways people have discussed.
            Closer connections can be a vital support in both Eating Disorders and other physical and mental health issues – you can definitely support your sister in her recovery, but as I’m sure you know you (unfortunately) can’t magically instantly fix her just be a part of TeamHer as she works (with professionals) on fixing herself.

            1. LW2*

              I don’t think it’s really fair to say I’m jumping to conclusions. In my original letter and many of my comments I have left room for something else being the culprit. I have some personal experience with EDs in my family, but I think you’re overestimating how much it’s affecting my judgement (of course I could be biased, but I wouldn’t say I’m jumping to action over it).

              It’s just hard to see someone suffering and do nothing, when there’s a chance it’s a very lethal mental illness.

      9. Nikki*

        Thanks for not saying anything.

        I had some pretty serious medical issues as a freshman that made my body look like I had an eating disorder. The constant, well-meaning scrutiny from my peers and the college staff was so stressful and really did a number on my mental health. It was so bad that I actually developed PTSD from the experience. I don’t think anyone meant to harm me, but it’s awful to be the continuous target of gossip just because of the way you look.

      10. Person from the Resume*

        Good for you, LW2.

        In this case the guilt is misleading you. The consensus (especially from people with experience) is that you could have only made it worse. I don’t know if repeating that to yourself could override the guilt you’re feeling.

        This is not like a heart attack. You, a stranger, cannot swoop in and save the day by doing anything. This is a situation where people close to the person (who have more information so are starting from a place of more knowledge) only might be able to help. A stranger can really only make things worse.

      11. Observer*

        I kept thinking, if someone was having a heart attack, I’d take them to the hospital, right? It’s not the same, but she looked so immediately and dangerously ill.

        I added the bold to your comment. That issue – “it’s not the same” – is absolutely the key to the whole thing. Because the difference means that the actions that would make sense with a heart attack could kill the person with an ED.

    2. Saraquill*

      Early in college, I was underweight with a poor appetite due to a series of illnesses. One guy decided I must have an eating disorder, despite my frequently saying otherwise. He further decided he was going to white knight me into health.

      He later nagged me for gaining a few pounds, thus being less attractive in his eyes.

    3. Charlotte Lucas*

      My sister is naturally very thin with a fast metabolism. When she was younger, her body required a lot of fuel, which led some people to assume she was bulimic (she was not).

      However, when she got sick with flu or was in recovery for it she would have looked & acted exactly as you described.

      The people who know the student best are best at making those judgment calls about her health.

      1. LW2*

        I don’t think so. I didn’t get into details because I wanted to avoid triggering images, but no healthy person could look like this woman. She may not have an eating disorder, but she was definitely sick. Like I said, I’ve only seen people that look like her on the news. A week of being malnourished wouldn’t do this to someone.

    4. Panhandlerann*

      That professor ought to have been fired. (And believe me, as a retired professor, I do know how hard that often is to do.)

    5. Amorette Allison*

      I went to high school with a girl we all thought had an eating disorder when they were just being recognized. Actually, she was born with rare medical condition where her intestines died off in sections. It killed her in her late 20s. Keep you mouth shut.

        1. Spooncake*

          As an isolated incident? No. But when people are very sick it never is an isolated incident, and people who are very sick don’t have the bandwidth to cope with all the questions and advice on top of handling the illness itself. I know that you mean well here but as someone who has been sick enough to be on the receiving end of well-meaning intervention (including of this specific ‘do you have an ED’ variety) I really would advise against it. We know we look terrible. We’re already doing what we can. And as others have said in this comment section, it’s unlikely that someone who *does* have an ED will react well to this type of intervention rather than spiralling.

  3. My dear Wormwood*

    “Servant leader” is a concept that comes from Jesus’s instructions to his disciples (“whoever wants to be the greatest among you must become servant of all”) so having it appear in secular job applications feels weird. I’m interested in our youth pastor being a servant leader, my accountant…not so much.

    1. IsbenTakesTea*

      Yes–I was going to say that in addition to Alison’s very good point about avoiding subjective assessments on a resume, seeing it would make me think “This is a person who is going to vocally frame their work from a religious perspective,” and that’s not someone I want working on my team.

      1. TROI*

        I never knew of a religious origin. My company loves this term but they use it completely secularly.

        1. Nora*

          Yeah, maybe it has religious origins but it’s moved past that since it gets used a lot by non-religious business types.

          1. Jackalope*

            Honestly I think it’s one of those things that even when used in a completely secular setting would be like secular Christmas decorations. It might feel secular to the people using it, and they might not have religious leanings at all. But to someone outside the situation the religious origins are still there even if it feels non-religious. Look at how many people on today’s comments section had an immediate response that it’s religious.

      2. Aggretsuko*

        There is a book called “The Servant Leader” (note: business context, not religious) that one of my bosses had me read. It wasn’t a religious thing at all, more like “focus on the people you are serving as you lead.”

        1. My dear Wormwood*

          Ah, see if it’s moved into a more mainstream context then it might not be a problem. Although if OP’s husband thinks it’s a strange thing for his own resume, he should still drop it because, ugh, buzzwords for the sake of buzzwords are painful.

        2. My dear Wormwood*

          Interesting, I would like the concept to be reclaimed on a broad scale from the people who earnestly use it to explain why patriarchy, properly executed, is a good thing. Because it really IS a useful and even beautiful way to approach life in community.

        3. Excel Jedi*

          Yes, in graduate school we studies ‘servant leadership’ as one of several post-heroic leadership styles (i.e., leadership styles when the person in charge doesn’t see themselves as a hero, but as a collaborator or facilitator) – and in my opinion, servant leadership is one of the most fraught. From my read, it tends to give leaders permission to do everything for the people they supervise, instead of holding them accountable for their own responsibilities. But leadership is only tangential to my degree, so I’m not an expert.

          I know people who put ‘servant leader’ on their resume, but they also have advanced degrees in things like leadership studies or I/O psychology.

      3. nom de plume*

        Apart from the religious dimension, the word “servant,” as the OP points out, is totally out of place in an employment context. The connotations are supine, tinging on servile — it’s really uncomfortable!

        There has to be a better way of describing attentive, team-centered management. This term is.. icky.

    2. Artemesia*

      And it isn’t ‘trendy’; it is really old and stale – it was a fad about 15-20 years ago and often used in religious or social service settings. I’d be worried about the whole resume if the service not only included this kind of gibble gabble but then actively defended it. What other secret ickiness have they included? To what extend have they neglected to demonstrate his actual strengths and accomplishments.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I wonder. I’d fire the resume editor and ignore everything they say, just based on this one term.

      2. Despachito*

        As to the trendiness – the Princes’ of Wales motto is “Ich dien” (“I serve”) since the 14th century :-)

        If I understand the concept of it correctly (I lead yet I am aware I am providing a service and therefore behave responsibly, not misuse my power etc), it is a good thing per se but 1) does not belong to a document that is supposed not to have subjective self-assessment, and 2) if your husband does not identify himself with that, it would be a mistake to put it anywhere.

        I’d seriously question the résumé service, and more so for not wanting to budge after you pushed back. I think THEY are providing service to your husband, and if he told them that he was uncomfortable with this term and they still insisted, there is something wrong with them.

      3. DieTrying*

        This! It was all over the evangelical world back in the 2000s, and I’m admittedly taken aback to see it pop up in a business context. It might have evolved separately there, but given American culture, I’d put excellent money on there being a strong genetic connection. One more reason to skip it, in my view.

        1. Please Mark This Confidential and Leave It Lying Around*

          Yeah, you can yell “Secular!” all day and all night: this is a Christian concept, and in the USA today it is chiefly an evangelical marker. Calling it secular lets it live on as a secret handshake.

        2. Sara without an H*

          It crops up in Catholic circles, too. One of the titles of the Pope is “Servant of the Servants of God.”

          But while it’s okay for the Pope, it’s not appropriate in the OP’s circumstances, and she should encourage her husband to take it out.

      4. Eater of Hotdish*

        By golly, you’re right. It occurs to me I haven’t heard that one for a while. It really does feel a bit dated in churchy circles. (I’m Protestant clergy and a fairly recent seminary graduate, FWIW.)

        It sort of defeats the purpose of humility to apply it to oneself, doesn’t it?

    3. Bayta Darrell*

      Yeah, as a Christian, the term “servant leader” instantly screams “church” to me. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term outside of a religious context. Even though others say they’ve heard it used as a secular term, I would avoid it in case the manager reading it is someone like myself who has only heard it as religious and will see it as a red flag that he can’t keep his religious life and his work life separate. Or, if he’s not religious but the hiring manager is *very* religious, they may feel misled thinking they were hiring a “good Christian.” Or, worst of all, the hiring manager may have only heard it in religious contexts and have come from a place where they have had negative experiences with religion, and then they may write him off because of it. I would say better safe than sorry here: leave it off.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I had never heard it in a religious context, but I am pretty sure this was an Evangelical thing, which never emerged into broader Christianity. When I read the OP, I was mystified by the phrase, and made no connection to Mark 10:44. Partly this is because the King James Version translates “doulos” as “servant,” at least in this instance, while more modern translations mostly use “slave,” making this the form familiar to me.

        This is not cultural background noise that worked its way outside of religious contexts. It is an Evangelical Protestant catch phrase. It could well be taken as a dog whistle, even if not intended that way. This alone is reason to avoid it, unless that’s what you want it to be.

        1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          It’s also a Catholic one; I grew up hearing about it occasionally in the Catholic church.

      2. LB*

        Yeah it’s mostly a Jesuit thing, so OP is interpreting it incorrectly if they think it’s implying that it’s the employees who are the ‘servants’ – it’s about viewing yourself as a manager as there to support them and enable them to do their jobs, not as being over or above them.

        But it’s not something people should assume will immediately convey what it means, and the résumé should instead show that, not tell it.

      3. Artemesia*

        I laughed at your comment that the hiring manager may be mistaken that they are hiring a ‘good Christian’ when they are not. My job, held for over 40 years, involved a very competitive search in a tight field. One of the panel interviewing me asked me if I was going to have more children (this was 1976). I responded ‘that is between my husband and me and God.’ Years later when I was the boss I looked at my file (I know, I know — ). And in the hiring materials was the statement by one member of the committee that they should hire me because of my strong Christian faith. Fooled them.

        But yes this term is going to put off anyone offended by bringing religion into the workplace. It is a religious concept no matter how secular it may seem to some.

    4. PollyQ*

      Wow, that’s interesting, because it sounded a little like a BDSM concept to me, like a variation on “service top.” Which is another good reason why it wouldn’t be a great idea to put it on a resume, of course.

        1. PollyQ*

          My second thought on it was that it’s a rather immodest thing to say, and reminded me, coincidentally enough, of something out of your name source, The Screwtape Letters, specifically, the “By jove! I’m being humble” passage.

          1. My dear Wormwood*

            Hahaha, yes, it could. In churches I’ve heard people exhort you to *be* a servant leader, but I don’t ever recall hearing someone actually describe themselves that way. Although I suppose it can also be a shorthand for a philosophy of management that you subscribe to.

          2. Richard Hershberger*

            This is my reaction to any performative piety, a la Tim Tebow. Matthew 6:5 speaks to this practice.

          3. hbc*

            Exactly. Other people might describe you that way, but at most, you could describe “servant leadership” as your *philosophy* as part of a larger discussion of “tell me about a time when you…” questions. The difference between:

            “I am a servant leader” and

            “I tend to be more of a servant leader type than an authoritarian. Sometimes that means I take longer to come to decisions because I want to make sure I know the impact on the team, and I’ve been known to be a day late with the quarterly budget if extra hands are needed on the production floor.”

        1. John Smith*

          I’m thinking similar. Didn’t see any religious connotation at all. Rather, it struck me as an attitude of serfdom rather than a party to a contract. Still, my line manager has just got out of the habit of referring to himself as an “enabling advocate” after being literally told to STFU by a weary colleague.

          1. paxfelis*

            “Enabling advocate” = “Oh, come on, one little (bad thing) won’t hurt, it’s just a little thing…” ?

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Same. I’ve never heard this term before in a religious or business leadership context and would not have a favorable impression of seeing it on a resume regardless. We have a professional staff herep; no one is a servant.

          1. Artemesia*

            And thus it is confusing. The idea is that the Boss/leader is a servant to the employees enabling their effective performance. A humble leader.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I had never heard this term before this letter, and after “Is this a workaround for some term that used slave, like master cylinder?” I went with “I lead my employees, who are actually my servants.” Which is an off-putting self-assessment.

        So we’ve got “Oh. Will bring religion into managing;” “Oh. Will bring outdated evangelical buzzwords into managing;” and “Oh. Will bring some BDSM thing into managing.”

    5. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Actually, Robert Greenleaf wrote several books on Servant Leadership and that is not his definition. Nor is it the OP’s.

      As is so often the case with ‘buzzwords’, there’s a lot more to the concept. In this case, Servant Leadership is a widely respected, specific form of leadership.

      1. Allonge*

        I think the answers here show though that unless one is familiar with Robert Greenleaf, the phrase is not at all clear and there are at least two interpretations that can be seriously damaging to anyone using this on their resume.

          1. Covered in Bees*

            So it would read that way you’ve studied management and agree with Greenleaf. That’s not something I’d rely on.

          2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

            Came here to day the same thing. I’m in a masters program for leadership development, and it’s something that shows up in pretty much every textbook I have.

            Also, I am a servant leader but I loathe the term. It gets overused in classes and frankly means nothing because no one really knows what it means to each person who uses it (see all the discussion above and below this comment).

          3. Richard Hershberger*

            Clearly not widespread, given the responses here. It seems to be a trendy term within management courses, derived from a formerly trendy term from Evangelical Christianity, but which has not made it out from those confines, and whose meaning is opaque to those outside these confines. This seems like a bad choice of language for a resume.

          4. Observer*

            It was in my grad school management textbook. So more mainstream maybe?

            It depends on how you define “mainstream”. If you mean “not just the province of the fringe”, then maybe. If you mean “widely understood and applied”, not necessarily.

          5. Nina*

            and if you didn’t do grad school for management (because some of us have jobs that are not management and went to grad school for those instead) it’s about as ‘mainstream’ as expecting you to recognize and immediately understand, say, a specific illustration used in my grad school chemistry textbook, which happened to be mainly about a chemistry technique called enzyme synthesis.

        1. Antilles*

          Bingo. The key point is that you-the-candidate have no idea what context the person reading the resume has for the phrase and the negative interpretations are just too widespread to be worth the risk.
          Especially since it’s not like there’s any real benefit of including it – even if your resume lands on someone without any of the religious connotations, nobody’s going to be the slightest bit impressed by seeing it on the resume.

          If you’re in an interview and the hiring manager asks about your management practices, then you can use it – since you have the opportunity to explain the term and actually provide an example of how you put it into practice. But on a resume, where it’s just a short buzzword with potentially negative interpretations? Too much downside risk of being misinterpreted.

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I think the answers here show that people don’t do even a quick Google search for a term or concept, familiar or otherwise. Instead, they apply their own understanding or belief of same – sometimes limited and often incorrect.

          A resume writer suggesting Servant Leadership doesn’t strike me as odd. Buzzwordy though it is, it’s a relevant attention-getter if used appropriately. And it clearly is buzzwordy since so many people on this thread got it wrong as it relates to a corporate understanding of SL.

          1. Nina*

            Isn’t the usual advice on resume writing that you should not assume the person reading the resume is going to be interested enough or have enough time to google niche buzzwords?

            1. Antilles*

              Yep. The general experience I’ve always heard (and it lines up with my experience reviewing resumes) is that in many cases, a hiring manager will typically spend something like 2-3 minutes on the initial resume screening.
              So if there’s a buzzword, nobody’s Googling it; you’re getting exactly the “they apply their own understanding or belief of same” that people are doing here in the comments.

          2. Observer*

            A resume writer suggesting Servant Leadership doesn’t strike me as odd.

            Not odd, just incompetent. Because the varied reactions you are seeing here is something anyone who has been doing this for any amount of time should have expected. And given how negative some of these reactions are, it’s just stupid to recommend that someone use a term that really lands very badly for a lot of potential employers / resume screeners.

          3. OyHiOh*

            In common parlance, I have only ever run across servant leader in a US Christian Evangelical context.

            I am generally familiar with Hesse and Greenfield (personal study of 20th century philosophies) and aware that “secular,” “corporate” servant leadership is derived from Greenfield. That Greenfield in particular actively sought religious leaders to speak to organizations about his servant leadership work rather belies the secular claims he and adherents make. Additionally, however hard I try, I cannot manage to separate the 21st century Christianese from the older “secular” phrase. Finally, as someone put it in one of these threads, the phrase feels about as secular as secular Christmas decorations and I’m still bitter about loosing that battle (on a federal facility no less) fifteen odd years later.

      2. allathian*

        Nevertheless I’d be wary of using it, since that meaning doesn’t appear to be the dominant one in most people’s minds. It honestly makes me question the resume editor’s motives here.

        1. Mockingjay*

          “makes me question the resume editor’s motives…”

          This. The resume should represent YOU, not someone else’s idea of you. The only ‘titles’ on the resume should be your actual job titles that will be confirmed in a reference check.

          Look at all the questions AAM receives about job titles. ‘Servant Leader’ might be taught as part of a leadership or business management technique, but it is not a title.

        2. Sara without an H*

          Yes, and why are they doubling down on it over the objections of their client? They sound pretty sketchy to me.

          1. DJ Abbott*

            Me too! No matter what it is, if the client’s not comfortable with it they need to remove it, not double down!
            It really makes me wonder what they’re up to.

      3. MV Teacher*

        Servant leadership has a strong religious connotation. It’s just that some people are more aware of that than others (generally those that are not the “in” group). Just because someone has another definition doesn’t change this.

        In any case, it’s a wordy way of saying you are good at leadership without any evidence.

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        But if people aren’t familiar with the term or Greenleaf, it comes across weirdly in a business context. Greenleaf died in 1990, and his works are from the late 70s and 80s.

        I’ve been working for more than 20 years and in leadership for about half of those. I’ve been forced to read a pretty wide variety of management and leadership books as professional development or for management “book clubs”, and I’ve taken graduate-level management classes. I’ve never heard of this guy or “servant leaders”.

    6. Tara*

      It’s normal to hear in the delivery manager profession. But it doesn’t belong on your resume if you’re not one of those.

    7. Irish Teacher.*

      That was my immediate thought too, that it sounds really religious. Might be appropriate if one was applying for a job as a pastor or something, but otherwise, it would seem odd to me. I was wondering if it read differently in the US.

    8. snarky McSnarkerson*

      The way it was explained to me by my boss, who read the book many years ago was this. Being a servant leader means that it is the leader’s responsibility to get their team the tools and resources they need to perform their job well. I haven’t read the book, but it was given to me in the last job (law) and is used in the current job, a liberal-minded research unit in a large university. Not right-wing conservative.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        To me, admittedly looking from a different culture, I would be thinking more religious left than right-wing conservative, but it would still have religious connotations to me. My immediate association would be the whole “the greatest amongst us should be servant of all” typed idea.

        I wouldn’t have associations with right-wing evangelical, but I would still be thinking religion and possibly the type of person who makes a point of stressing how how they work for their team.

        I would assume it means a collaborative approach to leadership, but…possibly with a bit of a martyred air to it, like “I listen to everybody because I’m a good Christian” sort of thing.

        It doesn’t sound like that is what any version really means, but that would be my association. Which would give me a mixed impression in that I would assume it meant collaborative leadership and listening to one’s team, all of which is good, but the specific term would make me wonder if they took a bit of a martyred air to it.

    9. Person from the Resume*

      I agree. I hate the term “servant leader” for two main reasons.

      First all it’s pretty vague BS that I usually see framed as how it is different/better than traditional leadership.

      Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the goal of the leader is to serve. This is different from traditional leadership where the leader’s main focus is the thriving of their company or organization.

      A servant leader may aim to share power with others and encourage the development and growth of others. This trait can extend to listening to followers carefully to better understand their needs, but it also involves leaders holding themselves and others accountable for their words and actions.

      And I’d argue that a good leader leader cares about the development and growth of their team members in addition to their orgnaizations goals. A good leader makes plan for succession planning and preparing others’ to take their place. I learned tradtional leadership in the US military before the servant leadership buzzword became popular.

      Second of all it’s associated with Christian religion and creates a worry that the person putting this in their application will bring religion into the work place.

      If someone claimed this skill on a resume (because it rubs me the wrong way), I might ask them to explain in the interview. And I might ask them to explain how that’s different from traditional leadership. If someone doesn’t think of themselves this way, it could be a very difficult question to answer.

      Anyway your husband’s resume should show how he’s a leader and not just tell that he’s leader/servant leader. Unfortunately this might mean that this resume (re)writing service is of questinable quality.

    10. WillowSunstar*

      We use it in Toastmasters a lot. It means you volunteer a lot to help others. It doesn’t mean that you are a middle manager. But I still would not put that term on my resume, just would list the actual volunteering under the volunteering section.

    11. Not a servant*

      I’m LW # 3 and part of my concern is that my husband’s work is secular and we are not Christians. Using this phrase, IMHO, lays claim to a tradition that we do not follow. In a broader context, it concerns me that the phrase could open up discrimination because people from other religions might be uncomfortable with it.

      1. Verthandi*

        I’d never heard the term before (also not Christian) and was left wondering what it means. Buzzwords generally have that effect on me, muddying communication instead of clarifying.

        Your husband might want to ask the resume service what it means by “servant leader” and edit the resume to say that instead.

      2. Lilo*

        I’m not familiar with any of the definitions set forth above but I’d still find it weird. “Servant leader” sounds like he’s Mr. Carson the butler from Downton Abbey.

        Knowing some people would see this as religious coding makes me really firm you should take that out. Unless he was applying for a specifically religious job it’s not coding you want in a resume.

      3. Sara without an H*

        I agree with your take on this. Tell your husband to stand firm and insist that it be taken out of his resume.

        He might also want to rethink continuing with this resume writing service, especially since they’ve shown themselves unwilling to listen to input from their clients.

        1. Lilo*

          ^This. Frankly even if this was a completely innocuous term, the fact that they’re refusing to respect a client’s wishes is a HUGE red flag.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        Religious or not, buzzwords are best left off a resume. He runs the risk of people not knowing the term and constantly asking about it or thinking it’s weird. And buzzwords also tend to become dated, like slang.

        I also don’t understand why he’d be obligated to keep it. Once the service has edited his resume, it goes back to him, right? He can edit that out before sending it anywhere.

    12. a raging ball of distinction*

      I’m a longtime Buddhist working a super secular corporate job in the Northeast, and while I was sort of vaguely aware that “servant leadership” has ties to Christianity I mainly see it used as shorthand for “I may be C-suite but I try super hard not to be a self-centered a-hole.” Which again brings up the problem of self-evaluation… Who would tell their CEO they’re a self-centered a-hole even if directly asked?

    13. Starlike*

      This was my immediate connection as well. I also think it’s a term that has significant potential to be problematic on a cultural/racial level – it seems like a humblebrag that white people without a cultural history of servitude can use without a sense of a greater historical context in which “servant” is a much more more imminent, significant word for people of other races, ethnicities, and cultures who associate it with a much more loaded meaning.

        1. Kit*

          It’s one of the common critiques of Greenleaf’s model from POCs (and also women). The notion of servants as leaders relies on the possibility for those servants to be perceived as capable of being leaders; those who are assumed to be in service roles because of their skin color or gender are understandably uncomfortable with a model that reinforces those stereotypes uncritically.

    14. Banana*

      Okay thank you, my last employer used it extensively, and I actually did enjoy most aspects of it, both as a manager and managee, but that context helps me understand why it was so heavily used there and how it would come across in other contexts.

    15. Cringing 24/7*

      This – I heard this term (or at least terms like it) all the time in Sunday School growing up, so the fact that it’s now making the rounds in professional circles (not mine, thank goodness) feels so out of place and icky to me.

    16. Puzzled2219*

      Servant-leadership is a real management philosophy actually derived from eastern practices and is written about in several books. There’s no connection to Christianity, but some more concepts come from Buddhism.

    17. sam_i_am*

      I was going to comment that it has weird Christian vibes that would put me off. Maybe use it if you’re applying to be a pastor? But not at a secular job!

    18. Momma Bear*

      Right….the only time I’ve ever heard it was in a religious setting. For a secular setting it would just be a record scratch, personally. If I saw that on a resume I’d wonder if they would be a good fit here.

  4. Hats Are Great*

    LW#3 — “servant leader” is a specifically Christian term, use most by right-wing evangelical Christians. It is not a corporate buzzword; it is an attempt by right wing dominionist Christians to turn it into a neutral phrase, rather than what it is, which is a very specific religious phrase that involves confessing specific ideas about Jesus and leadership.

    I threw this resume company is alarmingly clueless that they don’t know this, or they’re trying to trick you into doing it on purpose.

    If you would like to signal to prospective employers, especially in the American South, that you are plausibly Christian, adding servant leader can be helpful. But in most places, it will be read as an off-putting claim that you intend to bring your Evangelical Christianity into the office and force other people to deal with it.

    Remove it. Unless you’re trying to signal that you are a right-winged dominionist Christian.

    1. Bayta Darrell*

      Exactly. There are ways to demonstrate that you are a leader who cares about your team without using a term that could be interpreted as a religious one. Definitely a red flag that the resume company is pushing this.

    2. Anonymous Poster*

      This is a pretty extreme reaction to what nowadays is just a buzzword bingo jargon mess.

      1. Lilo*

        I haven’t heard of this term before but I think this response is extremely relevant for LW. Some people are going to react negatively to that phrase. This buzzword needs to go and really all the work that resume company has done should be seriously side eyed.

      2. Starlike*

        If you’re familiar with the religious context and not the jargon context, like many commenters seem to be, it’s extremely loaded.

      3. Haley*

        #3, I believe the spirit of “servant leader” is that the leader is supposed to “serve” those they lead. Also think it is an over used term, but how it should in most cases how good leadership should be. Clearly it is a bad term if it is misconstrued in this manner.

        To use a (horror) Christian term….AMEN

        1. Shad*

          The problem is not that it is merely a Christian term, but that it is a term associated with a particular type of Christianity known for deliberately bringing an assumption of shared faith and practice into secular life and demanding that the world at large adhere to that vision. Personally, I would go so far as to call it a dog whistle for a particular set of viewpoints that are incompatible with leadership in a diverse workplace.

      4. emmelemm*

        It may *now* be a buzzword bingo, but it is without a doubt religiously (specifically evangelical Christianity) derived.

    3. TROI*

      Interesting viewpoint, but I think it’s moved beyond these origins in most places. My atheist Canadian manager uses it. I’m not sure that there is any evidence this is the dog whistle you think it is in other parts of the world, but I’ll watch these comments and see what other people think.

      1. Tinkerbell*

        I’m in the Bible Belt and would definitely read this in two ways:

        1) This person is going to have troubles with boundaries when it comes to work and religion

        and/or

        2) Even meant in a secular way, “servant leader” sounds a lot to me like “will second-guess everything their manager does and will boss around their co-workers.”

        I see comments saying there’s a specific business phrase intended here, but this kind of wording is VERY common where I live and it can be a constant balancing act when 90% of your workforce is some flavor of Christian, a significant percentage of those feel it’s their duty to witness to others and don’t see the problem with it, and the small minority of non-Christian non-agnostic/atheist employees don’t feel they can speak up. Some businesses just assume an overt veneer of Christianity (a certain fast-food chicken chain comes to mind) where you’re not REQUIRED to share the owners’ religious values, but you’ll be ostracized if you don’t.

        1. Jack Bruce*

          Yes!! When you’re in this environment (also in the Bible Belt) it’s definitely an alert that the person using it is most likely evangelical and will have boundary issues on religion. The way it’s crept into speech as if it’s neutral is alarming.

      2. Well...*

        Yea it could be… Lots of turns of phrase have origin in religion. Servant leader kind of turns my stomach because it feels a bit hypocritical, and also, like, no one should be a servant? In hard Christian spaces it gives me vibes of “I’m your leader and I embrace servitude, so you should all embrace it even harder and fall in line.” Still, it could be that it’s spread further than religion.

        1. Non flying flat vowels*

          Our corporate employer has gone very Agile in most parts of the workforce. It’s wording that Chapter Leaders often use now for how they aspire to lead people. Our company is Australia based, large, and secular.

      3. RabbitRabbit*

        “Servant-minded” is another phrase that is definitely deeply right-wing Christian (Googling it shows it coming up basically solely in religious-themed writings, at least on my first page of results, and the one business result is at a private Christian university), and I’ve seen it used with other similar Christian-themed terms in shared job applications before (people asking WTF that means, with warnings coming back that the manager apparently wants Christians), so anything using “servant” would get my ears perking up for dog whistles.

        I guess I’m glad that a particular business writer and this weird buzzword hasn’t apparently infected my end of the healthcare field yet.

        1. Hats Are Great*

          “Joe has a heart for XXX” is another one (“a heart for children” “a heart for service” “a heart for helping stray animals”). It a lovely and expressive phrase, but it comes out of evangelical Christian discourse. And when someone says it in a community/volunteer setting, that’s fine. But when someone says it in a work setting, my antennae go up a bit.

          Probably (in my workplace, anyway) they’re just repeating a lovely, expressive phrase they’ve heard which captures the idea of being strongly dedicated to something succinctly and poetically. But *possibly* we’re straying into religious territory that’s going to get real uncomfortable, real fast.

          1. Eater of Hotdish*

            All of this–and in my experience, “Joe has a heart for [disadvantaged population]” often means “Joe goes on mission trips and takes pictures with adorable [said population] children while intermittently doing service activities that don’t do diddly-squat to address the relevant systemic issues but wow, they look good on social media.”

            But that’s perhaps my cynicism showing.

    4. Lady_Lessa*

      Ironically, I never heard the phrase when I was an evangelical in the South, but it is used by the leaders of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

      Personally, I detest the phrase, something about it just rubs me the wrong way. But, I really like one of the papal titles. “Servant to the servants of God”

    5. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I think it is very much a corporate buzzword. In my graduate program in 2018, the term was in a management textbook.

        1. Please Mark This Confidential and Leave It Lying Around*

          If you got your MBA in the USA it was an intentionally “secularized” religious concept.

      1. Wants Green Things*

        It’s a corporate buzzword *because* the Evangelicals and the religious right have pushed so hard to “normalize” it. Just because it shows up in a school textbook doesn’t mean it’s a neutral term – I can think of many topics covered in even grad texts that have been influenced by religious fervor.

        1. CdnAcct*

          Yes, it’s actually really interesting to look into textbooks, how they’re decided on, and what power they have to normalize ideas and vocabulary, but it’s also a bit depressing.

          Something being in a secular topic textbook doesn’t necessarily mean it’s secular or objective terminology.

          For example, try reading any sociology or management textbook from a few decades ago, you’ll see a lot of terminology and ideas that read as quite biased and influenced by certain ideologies.

    6. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      Agreed. I’ve seen it in a church context since at least the late 90s, and while I’ve seen it in a business context since then, I’ve just assumed it’s from the sort of businesses with Bible verses on their invoices (and avoided accordingly).

    7. Overit*

      100% this. K worked for nearly 15 uears in American religious deniminations in a prpfessional capacity. There is an oft- stated goal to “Christianize the United States,” which includes making words, phrases, titles amd ideas that are, IMO. evangelical right wing Christo-Fascist, part of the mainstream. The idea is to get people comofrtable with and using them to make “the next wave” that much easier.

      1. Julie*

        Servant leadership is not a right wing Christo-Fascist phrase or concept. It’s a Christian phrase and concept, but that’s not the same thing. Reign in the religious bigotry, will you?

        1. CdnAcct*

          It doesn’t seem to be one broadly used across denominations, but something mainly used by certain evangelical groups. Which is a pretty good reason to at least be cautious about its implications and connotation.

        2. BokBooks*

          There’s no religious bigotry in rejecting one religion from taking over the country and forcing their beliefs on everyone.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              Straw man argument. Nobody has said that Christianity as a whole is fascist, just acknowledging that some denominations within Christianity behave in a fascist manner.

        3. This-is-a-name-I-guess*

          Criticizing hateful, bigoted Christians is not religious bigotry. If you are really concerned about bigotry, please go tell your fellow Christians to stop trampling on my rights as a woman, a queer person, and an atheist. Their private beliefs should not impact my private life.

          Atheists are not your problem. Evangelicals are.

          1. Julie*

            Servant leadership is not a term owned by hateful, bigoted Christians even though that subset may also use it. As I said elsewhere, in *my* experience it’s used in Christian social justice circles.

            I didn’t make any comment about atheists. My objection is to labelling a broad religious term as fascist because a subset of that religion in your country is fascist. That’s not OK to do for any religion.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              If the fascist denominations have adopted a term that was formerly positive and started using it as a dog whistle, unfortunately that pretty much spoils it.

    8. Just another queer reader*

      Yeah, the phrase servant leadership gives big flashbacks to my Catholic upbringing.

      I haven’t encountered the phrase in my career thus far. Since it comes directly from a Bible verse (Luke 22:26) I’d rather keep it out of the secular world.

      1. Hats Are Great*

        That’s a different context. When you’re in a religious setting or a Christian-inflected social justice setting and you’re talking about servant leadership, that’s a 100% normal use of a Christian term in a Christian (or Christianish) setting. When I attend NAACP events and someone talks about servant leadership, that’s completely normal and drawing on the underlying Black Church traditions that helped found the Civil Rights movement.

        When someone’s saying it in a business setting, that’s absolutely about selling the “business acumen of Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby!” to mainstream secular America and sneaking right-wing evangelical Christian ideas into mainstream discourse by the back door. It’s on purpose. They have entire publishing houses dedicated to laundering right-wing evangelical concepts into “secular” popular-press books about business, self-help, whatever. They also have entire universities dedicated to presenting those ideas in neutral ways to inject them into mainstream academic discourse (at, say, MBA programs).

        One difference between traditional Catholic (and mainline Protestant) universities in the US is that those never hide their faith tradition — if someone business prof at Marquette was writing about servant leadership, they’d say pretty close to the top, “The Pope, for example, is a model of a servant-leader,” because they’re there to talk about why it’s a good model of leadership and there’s no problem acknowledging where it comes from. When people are writing books and papers about it as a secular business concept and pretending it DIDN’T come from the Christian faith tradition? They’re hiding their agenda. Which isn’t to give you good leadership ideas; it’s to sneak Christian ideas into mainstream discourse in the guise of business jargon as part of a larger project to Christianize American thought and to force people to use their terms and their jargon.

    9. Jack Bruce*

      Even in the South, it screams “evangelical Christian who will proselytize” which isn’t good for a resume unless you’re applying to an org run by one of those denominations. I’ve only heard it used by CEOS/leaders who are part of one of those orgs and will “pray for you” which is unwelcome at work, even here.

    10. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      It’s absolutely a term used in leadership studies though. I could go grab at least 5 textbooks I have from grad school that use the term and define it, some with entire chapters devoted to it.

      The term is vague and icky (for the religious connotations it has) and does not belong on a resume–but it is definitely not a specifically Christian term.

      1. DanaLyn*

        I am almost ABD with a PhD in leadership and organizational management, and I can confirm that servant leadership is one of the main leadership theories and and views of leadership that are out there and it has no religious connection in that context. Specifically, it’s a leadership style where the leader believes that empowering followers and establishing systems that are in their best interests is the most effective way to build excellent organizations. It’s a leadership style, just like transformational leadership or transactional leadership or charismatic leadership. That doesn’t change the fact that I wouldn’t put it in a résumé, particularly not if I wasn’t a servant leader, but those stating that it has Biblical connotations are not correct in this context. Now, whether it is the most effective leadership style is certainly a debate and is in fact often debated in my classes, lol.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, agreed. It genuinely means something different in business contexts than it does in religious ones and as someone else pointed out, you need to know what it means in *your* context. (That said, it doesn’t belong on a resume! And clearly a ton of people haven’t heard the business usage and would draw conclusions you wouldn’t want them to draw.)

          1. Catherding Specialist*

            I recently fumbled a question about my leadership style badly in an interview and someone suggested using “servant leadership” going forward as my style does reflect DanaLyn’s definition. Is there another shorthand way to convey this?

            1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

              I sometimes say: “I work for the people I manage, not the other way around.”

    11. Observer*

      it is an attempt by right wing dominionist Christians to turn it into a neutral phrase, rather than what it is, which is a very specific religious phrase that involves confessing specific ideas about Jesus and leadership.

      That’s factually incorrect. See the discussion of the history of the term.

      Having said that, the problem is that a lot of people think as you do. They don’t know the history, and they *do* know the Christian source. So they come to this conclusion and it’s not at all surprising.

      Remove it.

      Absolutely. And, as others have noted, look at the whole resume with fresh eyes. Because this indicates that there are some problems with these guys. It’s hard to tell what the specific problem is, because there are so many problems with this phrase that it could indicate a bunch of different issues. But you DO know that there is a problem that could be affecting every other part of the resume.

    12. Beth*

      Ugh. I did a full-body cringe at the term (which I have never heard before) in the letter, and now I just did a full soul-and-body cringe. Gahhh.

      I can’t imagine that expression ever becoming neutral. Nor should it.

  5. A.N O’Nyme*

    LW 3, unless your husband happens to be a butler (actual butler, not a valet who gets called a butler because the writers don’t know the difference) the term “servant leader” has no business being on a resume.

    Frankly even if he is a butler it’s a weird phrase.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      I’d never heard the term servant leader until reading it here. Clearly I live in a completely different professional world.

    2. DJ Abbott*

      This is where I land also. This phrase, which I also have never heard until now, brings visions of British period piece TV shows.
      I also have to wonder about if it’s a sign of our declining society. Does management see us as servants, not employees? I’m sure some elites do. In fact, that would explain almost everything!
      Interesting that it began as a dominionist Christian phrase.

      One other thing OP3 – I would not use this résumé service. They should facilitate your husband expressing who he is, not be trying to force uncomfortable, questionable phrases on him! Their behavior and professionalism are not good.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Does management see us as servants, not employees?

        My understanding of the term is that it means “leader who serves the people they lead,” not “leader of the servants.”

        But the fact that so many people are reading it as “leader of the servants” is just another reason not to use it – it’s opaque enough that you can’t count on the hiring manager knowing what you mean.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Especially if the people in your circle are reacting negatively to it. That tells you more about your immediate culture, which might be removed from the culture of the resume writers.

      2. paxfelis*

        I have retail in my background, and “servant leader” seems as if it would dovetail seamlessly with “the customer is always right.”

      3. Irish Teacher*

        I think that term is the opposite of seeing employees as servants. It’s implying that the manager is there to serve the employees rather than boss them around. I would associate it with Jesus’s comments about how “the greatest among you must be the one who serves” so being a manager is about being servant of all rather than looking for status.

        I do feel it could be a bit hypocritical in the corporate environment where the manager, at the end of the day, has the power to fire, discipline, etc. It’s a term I’d associate with people like clergy, where their job is to lead by example and also to serve their congregation – visit the sick, counsel those having difficulties, etc – and they don’t have any actual power over people (or shouldn’t) or even how government is meant to work in a democracy, where the government are there, theoretically, to serve the people and the people are the ones with the power to fire them, by voting them out. In the corporate environment, that…isn’t really the way it works, so it comes across as a bit tone deaf to me. “I may be the manager but that means I am here to support you, not hold power.”

        But yeah, as others are saying, the fact we are all reading it differently, from a corporate buzzword with little clear meaning, to a conservative evangelical Christian dogwhistle, to leader of the servants to a manager who sees their role as supportive rather than authoritarian…indicates that it is far from clear and there is no knowing which interpretation the potential employers would read.

        1. GreenDoor*

          To me, the only time “servant leader” would be appropriate is for someone whose job is in religious ministry, where Christians particularly are taught that even leaders are to be servants (for Christ). But…that’s about it.

  6. Servant Leader*

    As someone who literally has am emphasis in servant Leadership in my masters degree) from years ago and from a highly respected private university that doesn’t just teach things because it’s trendy), I guess I didn’t realize servant leader was a “trendy” thing and definitely didn’t know it was offensive. It startled me a bit to see it referred to as odd and offensive. I can 100% elaborate on what it is and can probably blather on about Herman Hesse and Robert Greenleaf until your eyes glaze over. But why is it odd and offensive? Like for me it’s a legitimate life’s mission and my entire leadership philosophy has been built on the concept of servant leadership. So I don’t understand why it’s offensive? Can someone clarify?

    1. Bayta Darrell*

      Part of the problem is it’s just being used as a buzzword, so it’s not authentic.

      Hats Are Great, My Dear Wormwood, and other commentors have some great comments about how the term is a religious buzzword, particularly in evangelical Christianity, and may give off unintentional religious vibes.

    2. OyHiOh*

      In most cases (US based) servant leadership is code for “inappropriately bringing evangelical Christianity into the workplace.”

      While I am at least a little bit familiar with Robert Greenleaf, this is one of those phrases that’s been so heartily coopted by the American Christian right that I’m frankly somewhat amazed that your professors didn’t mention the possibility of your education being mistaken for the Christian sort, assuming your masters is from a generally secular American university, of course.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yes, this. I’m fine with the idea behind it, at least as far as I understand it. But as someone who was raised in the Evangelical Christian world, this just SCREAMS evangelicalism to me. Someone using it on their resume would raise a least a yellow glad that they’ll be aggressively Christian at work. (And I’m still Christian, and support other people being religious…. but the aggressive part is the concern here.)

      2. Servant Leader*

        I kind of wonder if it’s a recently co-opted thing. Like I did get my degree years ago so maybe why not mentioned at the time? I am not an evangelical Christian and this school is not the sort that caters to people who are.

        This is actually really good feedback that I appreciate. And I appreciate people not jumping down my throat to tell me clearly I am evangelizing at work or whatever. I am not. I don’t mention servant leadership or have it in my resume. It’s really just a leadership philosophy.

        1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          I think I have a similar philosophy. I don’t think I’d include it on a resume, and in an interview, it’s more helpful to explain it (with examples) than to rely on buzzwords that can, and in this case obviously do, mean different things to different people.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          So what we have is a phrase whose meaning is not transparent, and which has been adopted (co-opted?) to take various meanings. This tells me that the phrase is skunked, at least outside of specific contexts where the reader will understand the intended meaning.

    3. allathian*

      I’m curious how you see the term. I see it as an Evangelical Christian thing, to be avoided at all costs in a secular workplace. I don’t see it as particularly trendy, either.

      In my organization, managers are supposed to be facilitators who help their reports to do their best work while maintaining a reasonable work/life balance. I could see facilitator managers as something that’s currently trendy, but not servant leaders, at least not in my area.

      1. Servant Leader*

        I don’t see it as a religious term at all, honestly. I didn’t realize people did. I did not learn it with any sort of religion bias.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          As a non-religious person who has never seen the term until today–I think it would make me uncomfortable to see the word “servant” at all. Pretty much the only place I would currently expect to see someone described as a servant is in a Victorian novel.

          My first thought on reading that term is it sounds like your employees are your servants. Which is very bad. Reading through threads here it seems it is more supposed to be that *you* are the servant? Which is not really any better to me.

          1. DJ Abbott*

            Me too, and that’s why there might be something under the surface here – employees viewed as servants, or managers (theoretically) viewing themselves as servants.
            Most would not use that word to describe themselves or others.

        2. Captain Swan*

          I used to work for a fairly well known company that had servant leadership as one of its core tenets. That company was most assuredly not in any way religious or evangelical. I knew about link to the apostles but not that it was code for evangelicalism.

    4. My dear Wormwood*

      It’s not offensive per se. It’s just that in wider America it will imply that you’re a Certain Kind Of Christian, even though it’s a beautiful concept in itself and widely used in a completely appropriate way in the spiritual life. The question about putting it on your resume is whether you want the connotations that come with it.

      1. Servant Leader*

        I honestly didn’t realize it was associated with being a Certain Sort of Christian, which I’m pretty sure is not who I want to be identified as. This is honestly legitimately good feedback so I’m kind of glad I asked.

        1. My dear Wormwood*

          I guess it’s a case of finding out how it’s viewed in the circles you’re moving in? If it’s become as thoroughly detached from its origins as some commenters are saying, it might not be a problem. It’s a shame really, I love the concept, and we do use it in our church, it’s just that it’s also been used extensively to defend things like patriarchy on the grounds that a servant leader husband will *of course* put his family’s interests above his own and therefore there’s nothing to worry about.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I don’t think the actual philosophy is an issue, just the Christian connotations. There’s nothing wrong with being religious but in too many places using such a Christian phrase to describe your leadership philosophy will read as not having good boundaries between your faith and your work persona, which can be important – especially in management where you will have authority over people of potentially many or no faiths.

            It’s interesting to me that you could have this be such a personal identifier and not know the background! I believe this commenter, of course, but having never heard it before today it screams evangelical Christian to me just from the phrasing. “Servant” is a word to me that has a religious connotation nine times out of ten.

            1. Observer*

              It’s interesting to me that you could have this be such a personal identifier and not know the background! I believe this commenter, of course, but having never heard it before today it screams evangelical Christian to me just from the phrasing. “Servant” is a word to me that has a religious connotation nine times out of ten.

              Here is what is interesting to me about your comment. The first time I saw the term “servant leadership” was in a purely secular context, talking about the leadership style. The only reason I even know about the religious context is that one of the articles I read explicitly explained how the originator of the theory came to it. But that article was absolutely NOT geared to an academic audience.

              Having said that, I can easily see how this would come across, especially in contexts where this kind of language is used a lot in the explicitly religious sense.

          2. Two Dog Night*

            Yeah, when my (Baptist) nephew got married about 15 years ago, his wife vowed to “submit [herself] to the servant leadership of her husband,” and my eyes just about rolled out of my head. I’ll never be able to disconnect that phrase from fundamentalist Christianity.

    5. Miss Curmudgeonly*

      I’d say because for those of us not familiar with the term, it sounds like it’s describing a “leader of servants,” ie referring to your employees or reports as servants.

      In the little bit of reading I’ve just done about the term, it seems to be meant to mean “someone who’s both leader and servant” – but then wouldn’t it be more accurate to say “servant-leader” or “servile leader”?

      1. A.N O’Nyme*

        Exactly. I do agree with the sentiment that a leader should be a servant, but putting it that specific way made me think of a butler (and judging by the strong reaction from other commenters it seems to have Very Specific religious connotations in the US as well, which I hadn’t considered on account of not being American). The idea is fine, but…maybe find another way to put it.

        1. turquoisecow*

          I am American and I’ve never heard it before! Although I did not grow up in or around the Evangelical community.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          The problem with labels such as servant leader is that people lose the surrounding context. It’s pretty simple, “take care of your people so they can take care of you!”

          smh. Nothing like a good buzzword to kill a concept.

          My thought is that a person who is living it, does not need to say it. In the course of “taking care of subordinates, while they took care of me” I learned so much and I learned how to navigate many situations. All that learning shows. It comes across as “Can do!”. But the unique thing here is that the people being lead are the ones who are saying, “Sure, I can do that!”. Good support brings this out in people.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        In Corporate America, it would imply you’ve read Robert Greenleaf’s books on Servant Leadership.

        Too many assumptions are being made about the term.

        1. Jackalope*

          I haven’t read Journey to the East by Herman Hesse, the book that inspired Robert Greenleaf. But given that the book is about a servant leader who belongs to a religious sect, and given that Herman Hesse was strongly influenced by Christianity (and other faiths as well, but a lot from Christianity), AND given that “servant leader” is a specific idea from Jesus, saying that the term has a Christian connotation isn’t a stretch. That doesn’t mean that everyone who uses it is thinking directly of Christianity, or that people never use it in other ways, but it is still more explicitly religious than you’re giving it credit for.

      3. Scarlet2*

        Yeah, I’d never come across that phrase before and that’s totally how I read it. I thought “wait, are they calling their reports servants??!”.
        Of course, English is my second language, so there’s that.

        1. Tau*

          Ditto, and I’m a native speaker for all practical intents and purposes (learned the language when I was five). This is NOT a self-explanatory term.

    6. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Well, I think no matter what I’ve learned about it in the last hour, it will not undue my initial, “ew” thought when I first read it. Maybe others have something more substantive to offer you.

    7. Servant Leader*

      That is interesting a d good feedback. I’m not evangelical Christian and the concepts were not taught in a way that relates to Evangelical Christianity. I actually wonder if it’s a somewhat relatively new ish thing that is considered to be that and I just got my degree long enough ago? I would put my education more toward “socialist” than “evangelical Christianity” to be honest. I didn’t actually realize it was seen that way. Also it’s just something I love and not something I talk about or have on my resume, if that makes sense.

      1. Aunt Beast*

        I’ve only ever heard about servant leadership from lefty Catholics (like, people who are really active in labor activism and liberation theology), so I admit the right-wing Evangelical connotations are surprising me too. On the other hand, I also didn’t think ‘servant leadership’ had reached management buzzword status either, so who knows. But this feels like it must be a recent thing.

        1. Paige*

          It was definitely a thing in protestant circles in the late 90’s/early 2000s, back when I was an active attendee of church services, and it was especially emphasized on mission trips (these were service-oriented, non-evangelizing mission trips where we literally just did home repairs for people who requested help). The idea was to lead people by helping them with what they needed, not what we *thought* they needed.

          And I’ve definitely seen it in more right-wing evangelical circles where it’s more of a buzzword for the exact opposite–“I’ll help/lead you by serving you with what I think you need.”

          I would absolutely cringe if I saw it in someone’s resume. Even if they meant it entirely secularly, it can be twisted so easily that I would be wary. Too often, the people who like to crow about that kind of leadership are the people who are the opposite. I’d much rather someone tell me what they’ve actually done (and what their turnover rate is).

    8. turquoisecow*

      I have never heard the term before so probably would just be confused if I saw it on a resume. I’m actually quite surprised that you can get a masters in such a thing.

      1. doreen*

        I have heard it before , without the religious connotation. I don’t think it’s commonly used in the for-profit sector , which may be why it’s unfamiliar to so many people. But regardless of whether people see it as religious or not – it doesn’t belong on a resume. It’s a management philosophy/style and no more belongs on a resume than “visionary leader” does.

    9. Allonge*

      It’s not sufficiently widely known to be sure that it refers to what you understand it as.

      It’s not obvious that it’s a technical term, so people will feel freer to interpret it based on the mearning of the words instead of checking if it’s a techical term. And just looking at the words: it brings up religious imagery or ‘servant’ imagery for those who don’t know it from where you do. Neither of which is ideal.

      1. Allonge*

        Maybe to illustrate: if I am applying for a library job, I can describe my last few workplaces as ‘special libraries’ as that means something in the industry.

        If I go outside the field, or even if I just want to be extra cautious, I will need to describe that I was working in a small library serving a particular organisation; the alternative is that people reading my resume will think ‘as opposed to boring, run-of-the-mill libraries? What a snowflake!’.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          This is sometimes called “nerdview”: language that is perfectly clear to the right sort of nerd, but opaque or misleading to everyone else. It is not a problem when properly used, and a big problem when improperly used.

          1. Observer*

            The other term for this is “jargon”. People tend to use the term derisively, but for better or worse, specialized vocabularies exist.

    10. Dmo*

      I’ve literally never heard the phrase Servant Leader used outside of the context of someone talking about being an Evangelical Christian.

      But this does point out another issue though… As a person who actually knows about this in a business context, if you were interviewing someone who put it on their resume but they *didn’t* know who Robert Greenleaf was, or presumably anything else that you learned your first week in the classes, that would just raise a different set of concerns besides the religious ones, right?

    11. Chilipepper Attitude*

      It was also taught in my grad school program in 2018. I understood it to mean that this type of leader serves the team.

      What I have found it really means is the person in charge defers to the team and does not really lead at all. That works when things are going well but does not work when there are actual decisions to be made and, you know, managing to be done.

      A friend works for a servant leader. In a recent crisis, the guy just looked like a deer in headlights and the managers at her level had to figure it out. Fortunately the managers at her level work well together.

    12. Slightly Less Evil Bunny*

      I had never heard the phrase before reading it here, and it just seems horribly offensive to me because – being ignorant of the phrase’s origins (whether from the religion or the business sphere) – it sounds like employees are being referred to as servants. That just rubs me the wrong way.

      Heck, even if you were talking about actual household staff, the term “servant” just has too much of an air of superiority about it.

      Hard pass

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I think the intent is that the manager is being referred to as the servant of the employees, not the other way around, but yeah, the term is open to so many interpretations that there is a great risk of an employer interpreting it in a way that turns them off.

    13. JSPA*

      1. Said of oneself, it smacks of false piety (or the secular equivalent).

      2. It sprang from a religious tradition that has a habit of treating its own terms as mainstream, neutral, and “not really religious, why would you think so?”

      Nobody said it’s a bad philosophy (or a bad organizing principle for one’s education). But just as someone who works on mental health intake at a crisis center would not bold on their resume, “I Serve the Poor and Downtrodden,” “I am a Servant Leader” is very different from, “Dissertation Topic: Servant Leaders and Leadership in triple-bottom-line Benefit Corporations” (or whatever).

    14. Harried HR*

      The term Servant Leader gives the impression that the person using the term is an Evangelical Christian and would have a hard time separating their religious beliefs from managing Non-Christian employees. The term also sounds sanctimonious which could mean the person could be insufferable in other ways too.

    15. Falling Diphthong*

      The main problem is that for those not steeped in Greenleaf, the reactions range from “kink term?” to “butler?” to “… religion?” (Which range from odd to offensive, in the context of an application for employment managing llama groomers.)

      For those who recognize it in a pure business context, “outdated buzzword” seems to be the go-to reaction. Like actuating synchronies, evidence of what you accomplished using it is going to be more useful on a resume than the buzzword.

    16. TechWorker*

      I had never heard of any association with evangelical Christians… I had a conversation with a recruiter where it was used to describe the fact their managers don’t do much/any technical or individual contributor work – Eg managers main responsibility is to ‘serve’ their reports, remove roadblocks and keep them happy. Which is fine, but not for me.

    17. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

      Nothing exists in a vacuum. For those unfamiliar: Hesse’s life was so steeped in Christian religion (and later, theological studies of other religions), his Wiki page is flooded with religious references. It was an ingrained part of his life, even the aspects of religion he rejected, which means it soaked into his works whether he consciously intended it or not. We cannot help but be influenced by what we’ve experienced.

      Greenleaf, who was also Christian himself, was inspired to develop “servant leadership” by one of Hesse’s works (in which the characters are members of a religious sect). There may be a push to “normalize” the concept and phrase as a secular thing today (though this is largely being done by far-right evangelical Christians trying to “normalize” Christianity), but it’s highly doubtful that there was no religious connection to it at all. Anyone saying that there’s no religious basis in “servant leadership” just comes off like that person is saying they didn’t read up on the actual history of it.

      Also, Greenleaf developed “servant leadership” writings for many different theological groups, such as seminaries and religious leaders. (He also developed writings for educators and business organizations, but religious groups were definitely a part of it. If I were developing a new philosophy as a nonreligious person, it would not cross my mind even once to adapt my philosophy for religious purposes.)

      (I’m not trying to come off brusque; I’m just having a reeeeaaallly low quality of health day, and I am one minor inconvenience away from burning down the entire world.)

      1. Zweisatz*

        This is very illuminating, as well as Jakalope’s explanation up-thread! Thanks for sharing.

        1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

          Thank you! I get so very tired of people saying that something can’t possibly have religious connections because it was “made for” the secular world.* Especially in the US, where Christian beliefs are so pervasive that even if you weren’t raised religious, they’re a daily part of your life.

          *I’m not saying anyone here is straight-up claiming it, at least that I’ve read so far, but there’s a lot of dancing close to the line going on.

          1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

            Also, to clarify: when I say “Christian beliefs are so pervasive that even if you weren’t raised religious, they’re a daily part of your life”….I don’t mean everyone follows Christian tenets in daily life, I just mean you can’t swing a stick without hitting at least three Christian mores passing by. They’re everywhere.

            1. DJ Abbott*

              Yep. It’s not as bad in the major metro area I live in now, but the fundamentalist area I grew up in…
              Have you ever visited NYC or Chicago? We make short work of people who try to force things on us. :D

    18. Philmar*

      Yeah, I’ve never heard the religious connotations of the term. It makes sense to me as a leadership philosophy and the last person I heard use it did so with no religious context (of course, I don’t know if he was personally religious). I would say it’s an odd thing to have on a resume but I could see it mentioned in a cover letter.

      1. Observer*

        Given all of the different connotations that people have, though, it shouldn’t go there either. You simply don’t know how people are going to take it.

        Aside from the religious aspect, notice how many people are saying that it sounds like “leader of servants”. That’s not a religious term, but I *certainly* would be side eyeing someone who used that phrase in the context of their leadership capacity.

    19. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      I am in a graduate program focused on leadership as well–and I am even a servant leader as it is described–but I loathe the term. LOATHE. It’s gross for all the religious connotations,* and I cringe internally anytime people use it (over and over and over and over) in classes.

      I cringe partly because–based on my nonscientific observations–servant leadership is the only leadership philosophy that people want to ascribe to and there is no way every single person in my program is actually a servant leader. I mean, who wants to say they don’t lead people with people in mind? No one. You’re going to go out and declare yourself as a laissez-faire leader? Nah. How about a bureaucratic leader? Nope.

    20. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Its a religious term. I’m guessing you went to a religious university. It’s fine in church contexts. It’s not ok in professional contexts.

    21. NotAnotherManager!*

      Absent specific knowledge about Greenleaf’s use of the term (in 70s/80s management publications), the phrase itself has a lot of connotations that will make people uncomfortable. You’re basically taking a chance that the person screening the resume has the same knowledge/speaks the same language, else you’re stuck with the literal meaning of the words and the reader’s interpretation of them.

      Just off the cuff:

      (1) Servant leader has biblical/evangelical overtones and has also, to some degree, been co-opted by this group. It will make people wonder if the candidate has boundary issues between their religion and the work environment.

      (2) “Servant” is not a term that belongs in the working world. This is a fee for service arrangement and the connotations of servant are outdated within current management-speak and structure.

      (3) It’s vague – is the candidate professing to be a leader of servants or to be a servant to the organization or what? Taken literally, sounds like someone’s applying to be the head of a household staff. Even in its intended usage, there are better ways to phrase that you see your job as enabling your team’s success and ensuring they have the tools to succeed (both of which I agree with and try to do, I would just never refer to myself as my team’s “servant”).

      (4) It’s very buzzwordy and self-descriptive rather than the sort of accomplishments I’d hope to see listed on someone’s resume for a leadership position.

      TL;DR – the philosophy is sound, the terminology isn’t, nor is it universal enough to benefit the average candidate.

    22. Not a Servant*

      But if you read Robert Greenleaf’s bio on greenleaf.org, it clearly states that he “ was informed by the Judeo-Christian ethic” and hired theologians to “ speak about the wider implications of corporate decisions.” Christianity has been part of his management philosophy always. For people who do not follow that particular religion, being told that it is now part of your secular work life is a problem.

      But I’d also debate that private universities absolutely do teach current themes of business management. It’s only not trendy if it survives the current time.

      Many historical themes give way to evolving standards of decency, if I might borrow a phrase. Greenleaf started working in the1920s. While he did promote women and people of color, it’s not like there was a lot of diversity in the corporate world during much if his career so there weren’t many people who might object on religious grounds.

      LW #3

    23. trebond98*

      I’ve only heard this term in Christian circles. Mostly Evangelical but also mainstream Protestant and Roman Catholic mostly in reference to what you are looking for in a priest/pastor.

      People keep mentioning Greenleaf but (oddly enough) I associate this name with the show on OWN about a Black family that runs a megachurch.

  7. Julia*

    I know it’s not the AAM-approved response and I’ll get a lot of disagreement, but I feel that in some rare circumstances it’s better to risk being wrong and offending someone than to stand by while someone who really needed help ends up dying.

    Yes, it’s a violation of professional etiquette to tell someone you’re concerned about their health; yes, it may very well exasperate someone who has to hear this kind of thing all the time because of their body or medical situation. But LW makes it sound like this person could be close to needing emergency medical attention. At the end of the day, you are a human first and a coworker second. It’s okay to break the rules sometimes by saying once that you are concerned about their health and hope everything is OK. Some people don’t have a support network and if their coworkers didn’t have a heart, they’d have nobody.

    Same thing with asking someone out at work, or passing along domestic violence hotline info or mental health resources, or telling off your boss for being a jerk. Don’t make a habit of it or you’ll be utterly obnoxious, but once in a very very great while under extraordinary circumstances? You never know when you might make a huge difference in someone’s life.

    1. Jackalope*

      I agree with you on this one. It’s something to approach with care and tact, but it feels like the risk of no one saying anything are so much greater than the risk of the OP saying something and getting it wrong.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        There is a comment upthread from someone who was in school with a person with an eating disorder. Which she was in treatment for. A professor followed the reasoning here–“I’ll call her out! That will wake her up to the issue and she will seek treatment and be saved!” and did so in the middle of class. It set off a relapse and the student had to withdraw from classes.

        1. TechWorker*

          Calling someone out ‘in public’ is not the same as a discreet private conversation. There’s also a story up thread of someone with self harm scars who got help when a lab assistant asked if they were ok… I don’t think there’s any ‘perfect’ response to this situation. (I do agree in general that if you don’t know them well, you are likely not best placed to help).

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Self harm is really different from eating disorders. There aren’t a lot of other things (some certainly! not many) that look like traditional self harm marks, so you’re typically pretty sure what you’re approaching someone about. The psychological background is different in ways it might be derailing to detail here. The chance of backfire is lower. The chance other people didn’t notice and the person isn’t already getting help is higher.

            It’s not a 1:1 in the way you can compare anecdotes or outcomes.

          2. Observer*

            There are some other comments about the way to handle ED that discuss the danger of even “discreet private conversation”.

            Please read them before pushing people to intervene.

    2. PollyQ*

      The risk is not “giving offense.” The risk is that it may cause actual damage to the mental and physical health of the person you’re speaking to. See Hats are Great’s top-level comment, above, for a worst-case scenario. It might also be useful to search the AAM archives for the “self-harm scars” question and the comments from people who’d had that issue. To a person, they said they’d be mortified if anyone had raised it with them. I also question greatly the notion that someone with an eating disorder or other serious health issue would have a “huge difference” made in their health just because a colleague expressed their concern.

      1. NLR*

        Yes, eating disorders are notoriously resistant to this kind of approach, even from close family/friends. In fact done wrong it can make the problem worse. There is zero percent chance that a near-stranger will be able to convince a person to get treatment for an eating disorder if in fact that is what it is. On the other hand there is a high chance that it will just upset/irritate someone with a different medical condition who prefers that near-strangers mind their own business about someone else’s body.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          This is it exactly.

          Case 1 – she has a serious eating order. At best, your interference has no effect. At less than best, it makes things worse.

          Case 2 – she does not have an eating disorder. She’s dealing with some other serious medical issue like cancer, and you are the 238th person to stick their nose into her private business, asking her to her divulge sensitive medical information to be left in peace.

          1. Moo*

            And one of the things that you miss if you have a visible illness or symptoms is privacy about your health!!

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            This is well summarized, thank you.

            Your urge to be “the person who said something” is just another variation on how your intent should totally override any outcome of your actions. Whether harm was done usually matters more than whether harm was meant.

        2. Riot Grrrl*

          Aubrey Gordon of the podcast Maintenance Phase tells a story about how whenever people pointed out her eating disorder, the message she received was “Oh, I’m not hiding this well enough” and would simply cause her to double down on it. That’s just one person, but the chance of a backfire is very real.

          1. Zweisatz*

            CN Mild discussion of disordered eating

            Yup. This can also happen when people point out that someone is eating “unusually” (less than everybody else, only specific things etc), which is a good reason to never comment on somebody’s eating (except maybe “that looks great!”).
            It’s very easy to make somebody who is already self-conscious about or has trouble eating even more reserved or even stop eating around other people that way.

          2. Butterfly Counter*

            Also, with the mental disorder of ED, it can also weirdly be a compliment. The ED will distort, “You’re so thin, I worry you’re in real danger,” into, “I’m on the right track! See, other people can’t be this thin, but I’m special so I can!”

      2. kiki*

        It’s really challenging to help a person with an eating disorder– drawing attention to the issue can make things worse. If LW were a close work colleague or friend, I might advise exploring the situation further, but LW is only in this lab for a few days. Even if LW were to bring up the issue and finds out that they’re right that it’s an eating disorder… what will they do in a couple days. Also, as Alison said, there are a lot of medical issues that can cause weight loss and low hunger– three days isn’t really enough time for due diligence to know what’s going on and make an appropriate move.

        1. kiki*

          I also think it’s clear to you and us that your intentions are good– you want to make sure she gets help if she needs it. But she doesn’t know you or what your intentions are and some people reach out to “help” but really are just interested in gossip.

    3. Jessica*

      I also feel torn on this, Julia. The problem is that from the outside point of view, it feels like “the stakes might be really high, so let’s take a chance on trying to help,” but if the person does not need help, and everyone around them is using this logic, then their experience will be one of getting constantly harassed or intrusively questioned about it by everybody.

      On the other hand, I have read memoirs of people in recovery from anorexia who basically said “I was starving to death in front of their eyes, but nobody in my life ever said anything.”

      1. TROI*

        As someone who had an eating disorder earlier in my life, a coworker expressing concern would have sent me into a spiral of shame and denial, even if kindly meant. Everyone is different, but it’s a little naive to think that a near stranger saying something to someone about their health is going to have any effect.

        1. MF*

          Seconding this. Once upon a time, I was a young woman in college with an eating disorder. Having someone (a stranger, a coworker, etc.) express concern over my weight would’ve been humiliating and caused me to socially withdraw even more than I already had. It wasn’t even helpful when friends & family tried to do this.

          So to anyone reading this: Please disregard Julia’s comment above.

      2. MK*

        This might affect the answer if it was family or a friend, even a work friend. A random person who was only in the workplace for a few days, no.

      3. DyneinWalking*

        They probably were referring to people very close in their lives – family, partners, friends.

        As others have mentioned, there’s a very high chance that if someone does have a mental disorder, a comment by an acquaintance could send them into sham and actively make he condition much, much worse.

        As a rule of thumb, only make a comment if you are in a position where you could actually interfere if a comment did make the condition worse – if e.g. you could just naturally drop by their place to see how they are (note: this would probably not be a good cause of action, even if you are close, unless the person is dangerously suicidal, but if a reasonable response to you turning up on their doorstep would be “How the hell did you find out where I live,why are you so invested in this?!” you are definitely NOT in the position to have any meaningful effect on their mental health.

        A very small pool of people with mental issues might disagree here, but I’d wager this is only the case for those whose struggles include(d) loneliness. And, yeah, if loneliness is part of the issue then interference by mere acquaintances might actually help, simply because of the social interaction involved.

        For any mental issue where loneliness is not a factor, you should leave interference to the people who are actually close to the person.

        1. BethDH*

          And in that situation, expressing care about the whole person would still be preferable and could be done in an academic-workplace appropriate way, as another commenter mentioned above.

      4. LW2*

        So, for the record, I didn’t say anything. But my sister had an ED and doctors congratulated her low weight for *years* past obvious signs of illness and past the point of her doing irreparable harm to her own body.

        What I saw from this student was far, far beyond any symptoms my sister ever had. She’s much sicker (though maybe doesn’t have an ED).

        Anyways, it’s hard to do nothing (underscored by knowing doing nothing is the best thing for my career) but I appreciate Allison’s confirmation that I’m not in a position to help.

        1. Appletini*

          That makes a lot of sense. Think of it this way: you are not doing nothing, you are refraining from doing something that may make the situation worse and in doing so you are putting her needs above your own comfort. That’s commendable restraint.

        2. DJ Abbott*

          That’s horrible the doctors didn’t address her low weight. Sadly, doctors are just as prone to social fads as anyone else.

          1. anon this time*

            I grew up with healthy ideas about eating and *developed* ED as a result of doctors (a) prescribing fad diets to treat what was actually ADHD, not “systemic yeast infection” and (b) fat shaming me because I wasn’t Southern California ribs-sticking-out thin after my weight rebounded from going off the fad ultra-low-carb diets.

    4. MK*

      No offense, but this is an incredibly self-centered approach. You are prioritiking your desire to Do Something and basically feel good about yourself, not really helping. You actually do know when you might make a huge difference: never. To believe that an intrusive question by a total stranger is going to cause a revelation in another person’s worldview is not realistic, it’s casting yourself as the Hero of a story that is not about you.

      1. Despachito*

        I’d not be so harsh. OP here seems to be genuinely pondering the odds of saying something vs saying nothing, and is aware that if they say something it can go terribly wrong. This is why she is asking, instead of immediately questioning the student.

        And I think it is a very legitimate question coming from a kind heart, because there is the risk Hats are Great is mentioning (somebody mentioned it and it harmed the person) on the one side of the scales, and the risk Jessica is mentioning (I starved to death under their eyes and nobody in my life ever said anything) on the other, and both are very serious.

        Even if the answer is “don’t say or do anything”, it comes from a kind heart, and should be treated as such.

        OP – if you are on good terms with the professors, maybe you could discreetly tell one of them who is most likely to know that you are concerned about this person’s health? I understand that they will probably not give you any specific information but I’d be fine with “yes, this is being taken care of”.

        1. Mired*

          The comment you are replying to was not directed at the OP but at Julia’s (frankly dreadful and dangerous) advice.

          1. Despachito*

            You are right, it was a response to Julia.

            However, I do not have the impression Julia is saying “this is what you must do” but is mentioning the other bowl of the imaginary scales, which is very much valid too. I do not perceive it as dreadful, I perceive it as a legitimate humane concern, which indeed CAN be dangerous, but this is why we are discussing it here.

            1. MK*

              Obviously we disagree about this, but my whole point is that, while the concern is a natural human reaction, I don’t see this way of thinking (“I” must do something, I might make a huge difference in someone’s life!) as valid at all.

        2. MK*

          Can you not see how your last paragraph prioritizes the concerned person’s feelings over the presumed ill person’s privacy? You are suggesting that a complete stranger goes to a person’s boss to discuss their health. For the purpose of setting their mind at rest.

          1. Despachito*

            What is wrong with that?

            There ARE indeed times (and I am not saying this is necessarily one of them) where privacy is a lesser concern than someone’s wellbeing. And nobody is actually DOING that, just discussing it here (and likely deciding against it).

            I am a naturally rather indifferent person so I’d probably not have this dilemma as I simply wouldn’t care enough about a stranger, but OP is perhaps coming from a kinder place.

            1. ceiswyn*

              What is wrong with invading the privacy of a stranger who you think might be in a precarious mental state?

              You really can’t see any potential down sides here?

              1. Despachito*

                AFAIK, no one here mentioned “go ahead and invade this person’s privacy”.

                What we are discussing here is:

                1) does the privacy always prevail, or are there situations when the safety/wellbeing of the person trump it?
                2) if so, is this one of the latter?

                Both are very legitimate questions, and my personal answer would be:
                1) privacy mostly prevails, but there are exceptional situations where it doesn’t
                2) this is most likely not one of them.

                Flagging the problem to someone who might be in a better position to help the person, without actually telling the person and disturbing them, does not seem a bad thing to me.

                1. Ceiswyn*

                  On the assumption that nobody who has a close relationship with the person has noticed the *really obvious visible characteristics* that they, a complete stranger, spotted almost immediately?

                  OP has neither expertise, context, nor a unique perspective. They have nothing to provide here.

              2. Despachito*

                Sorry, this is sort of a duplicate – my answer took quite a long time to appear so I wrote another in a similar vein.

            2. bamcheeks*

              Privacy and well-being aren’t two separate things, where you can handwave the first away because you think the second is real, especially when you’re specifically talking about a mental health problem. Having your privacy and consent respected are absolutely fundamental to mental wellbeing, and the situations where it might be necessary to negate someone’s privacy pr consent are extraordinarily delicate and require a much greater knowledge of the individual or a much more specific ans detailed duty of care than random colleague.

            3. Not So NewReader*

              What’s wrong with this is deciding that the person has X [cancer, eating disorder, other thing] and pushing that idea.

              We don’t know what is going on with this student. Maybe she is taking care of an ill family member. This combined with school means she never has time to sleep or eat. (BTDT) Who knows.

              While OP does not directly say eating disorder other people here do. And that is insulting. I was eating 4k calories a day and losing 5 pounds a week. I was scared crapless and my jaw hurt from chewing all the time. My husband who saw me the most knew how much I was eating and how the grocery bill jumped. So he was the only person who knew it was not a food issue.

              The people who insisted I had an eating problem where the very people I turned off- like hitting a button on the tv. Because their comment showed the severe lack of understanding anything about me and my life.
              And in some ways, their accusations interfered with me getting actual help.
              I left the job I had at that time, and my weight issue tapered off shortly after. Too much heat, sun, chemicals and heavy lifting- way too much.

            4. Chilipepper Attitude*

              What is wrong is you are prioritizing the feelings of f the person who wants to be a hero over the well being of the person who appears to be ill!

              This is not simply a matter of violating someone’s privacy, which while serious, is not the main concern. It is the IMPACT of violating someone’s privacy. We have lots of evidence that the impact of violating someone’s privacy by people who are not close to them is to increase the mental and physical damage of the other person.

              The motivation to say something is, therefore, not based in a desire to help but in a desire to be seen as helping. That is, saying something centers the feelings of the person, to make them the hero in the story, and devalues the physical and emotional well-being of the ill person.

              1. LW2*

                Harsh. I was feeling very torn, like, am I being selfish for wanting to help (being the hero) or am I being selfish neglecting to take action (obviously the safer move for my career). I didn’t say anything in the end, but I wanted to check that I wasn’t missing something obvious.

                1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  I agree that there are many harsh comments here. It’s enough to put people off writing in with questions.
                  Your concern is coming from a kind heart, and writing in was a good idea, because you have had plenty of people explaining why speaking to the person wouldn’t be a good idea. I hope you don’t take the harsh comments to heart too much!

            5. Falling Diphthong*

              It reminds me of the OP who was upset when a colleague left on a stretcher; she wanted management to make a company-wide update a few hours later about how the colleague had suffered from (insert actual medical thing) BUT he was now ABSOLUTELY FINE. Leave HIPA aside: that the person taken to the hospital might not be fine didn’t cross her mind.

              Re kindness to strangers: there’s a rule with ethical development that it doesn’t stop at empathy. Empathy is great, but as an adult you occasionally need to dial the empathy down so you can respond in a useful manner when things are bad. If blood is spurting from my leg, I don’t want someone who can feel my pain–I want someone who can override that urge to put pressure on the wound while barking at someone else to call 911.

              It’s reasonable as an adult to not stop at “I should enquire as to their wellbeing so I assure myself that I am kind” but follow on to “Could drawing attention in this way harm them? Am I in a position to follow through on my enquiry and know how they are doing, and help them if it makes it worse?”

              1. Dahlia*

                HIPAA would not apply at all to that situation. HIPAA prevents your healthcare providers from releasing info about you

      2. WillowSunstar*

        I would say for people who really want to Do Something about eating disorders, either donate time or money to a charity that helps with them. That will both help people and make you feel better without possibly hurting someone who might not have an eating disorder.

    5. WS*

      As someone who has had cancer and another chronic illness that at times has caused me to look awful and sick, please don’t do this as a co-worker. If it’s a close friend or close family member, sure! If you’re their direct manager and it is affecting their work, sure! But when every tenth person asks if you’re okay, that’s a lot of people through the day and if you are sick, you do not have the time, energy or necessarily the patience to deflect this every. single. time. It may be a thing to do under “extraordinary circumstances” but this is not those circumstances.

      1. Spooncake*

        I agree with you. When one of my chronic illnesses was at its worst I looked very thin, felt terrible, and was too embarrassed to eat in the company of coworkers because my medically-advised restricted diet would just invite even more questions. I understand that people are trying to help, but sometimes the well-meaning comments are almost as exhausting as being sick is. I hated it, and I still hate it now.

    6. Ellis Bell*

      The risks here have nothing to do with professional etiquette though. I agree that’s if that all it was it would be somewhat cowardly to balance it against a life at risk. However, eating disorders are an area where it’s easy to spook someone back into a relapse. Low weight does not mean someone isn’t being treated. Any commentary that begins with “I noticed your body” is just going to be misheard. There’s something to be said for a workplace to take up any other symptoms which affect their work like dizziness or fatigue, but the OP doesn’t even know if that’s the case. OP is just not well placed at all to just go ahead and make comments on this person’s body without taking a bunch of risks on this person’s mental health. That’s even assuming they are right! Which they may not be.

    7. ceiswyn*

      That ‘huge difference’ you make may be ‘killing them’ , though.

      The big negative here isn’t that you might be a bit obnoxious, it’s that you might drive a genuinely ill person into a shame spiral that causes them to double down on their disorder. You, meanwhile, get to go on your merry way with a warm glow of achievement and never know how much worse you made everything.

      Are you an eating disorder specialist? Are you in a position to give a person actual support? Then leave a delicate situation to those who are, and don’t blunder in ignorantly making things worse.

      Signed, someone with an eating disorder.

      1. Appletini*

        I hope your wise words are listened to by those who value their own heroics over other people’s actual wellbeing.

    8. bamcheeks*

      I have been in a very similar situation, when I put together a colleague’s self-harm scars & rapid weight loss & tendency to disappear to the loo with a toothbrush and toothpaste and thought, aha! Fortunately before I tried to stage any kind of intervention, I ran it past an internet community i was a member of and they very, very firmly and emphatically said NO. And they told me I was trying to play hero and i had no business doing so. And they were very very right.

      A really good way to test your reactions in a situation like this is to ask a) what am I willing to invest, in terms of power and time b) who bears the risks if I get it wrong. In this situation, you are talking about something really, really low-investment and low-risk *for you*— you can’t offer meaningful ongoing support, you’re just hoping that a one-off conversation that *feels* like a small professional risk because it’s breaking someone else’s boundaries has a massive pay-off. And it’s incredibly high risk for the other person because you have no idea where / how that conversation will land in her personal journey.

      The idea of “what if a stranger / colleague said something and it made all the difference” is a really powerful fantasy— it’s the kind of thing that happens in films and books and ~occasionally~ it happens in real life and goes viral online because it plays into such a fantastic personal fantasy— “what if *I*, without investing any real meaningful time or risk here (because all the risk is born by the other person), can succeed where their family, friends, HCPs have failed?” It’s a really, really attractive fantasy, and I get why people want it to be real, but it’s no more realistic than “I just laid hands on someone and their cancer was cured”. Real mental health problems, especially ones as complex and tricksy as eating disorders, don’t work like that.

      What I suggest is that you replace it with, “work was the place where people just respected me as a person and an expert on the 12th century llama fighting — it was the safe place where I didn’t have to think about food or recovery and every single person who looked past my illness and saw me as an colleague and a professional helped me.” You are still helping— you’re just doing it by treating her as the person she is clearly presenting as at work, and sitting very firmly on the bit of you that says, “but I WANT to treat her differently! Surely her appearance justifies that!”

      If that doesn’t feel enough, you could also put that energy towards general campaigning for better working conditions and mental health support for early career academics more broadly— that’s a genuine way to use your energy and power to help.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        This is such a beautiful response and points to actual ways to help (which I did not, could not do). Thank you.

      2. Darsynia*

        This is well put. Another good thing to know is that stranger’s assessments of one’s body is a huge concern for people with EDs, isn’t it? So it might actually be more helpful to notice and not say something.

      3. Michelle Smith*

        I really wish there was a way to highlight certain comments. This one deserves to be noticed IMO.

      4. aubrey*

        As someone who had people I barely knew (other students) call out my eating disorder and that just made it worse, I agree with everything here. It really helps to be treated as a competent professional, not as a sick or crazy person. Having people point out that they notice my body was the absolute last thing I wanted. A general flyer in a public place about available mental health resources for grad students would be as far as I’d go in this situation. If she truly has no one else, and LW has been treating her with respect and friendliness, they could possibly be someone she’d confide in, but I definitely don’t think pushing it is a good idea at all.

      5. Kez*

        Absolutely stunning comment – this put into words everything I was thinking, and very compassionately.

      6. Smithy*

        This is so well put.

        I will also share, that I have a friend who has managed to show up in my life during two difficult moments with the “perfect” response. And when I’ve told her about it in reflection, it’s made her feel a little awkward because in both cases she was just trying to be kind in the moment. And in her mind, it wasn’t her trying to provide me with “perfect” support and there have been either times when she has tried really hard to be supportive to me or others, and those times don’t rank necessarily rank as “perfect”. And sometimes I’m sure may have even missed the mark as being helpful at all.

        Now, the reason why those moments ended up being perfect is because she’s a good friend overall who tries to be caring when people are in distress. And at least in my life, two times ended up being that perfect mix of right time, right place, right intention etc.

        I promise you. There may be moments in your life where you are that perfect hero. And hearing it back, might make you feel far stranger than you’d like. Because most likely, it was you being a normal version of your best self, that in that moment, turned out to be someone’s hero. And it ends up not being satisfying because of those times when we try really hard….that may just get noticed as normal.

    9. Snoozing not schmoozing*

      What if the person is on the opposite end of the size spectrum, and you think it’s your responsibility to say, “Do you know you’re really fat? You might have a heart attack at any minute! Let me save you from yourself!” Ick, no. Same thing in this situation.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        As a very fat person with a mobility impairment, I can say unequivocally that I would be extremely embarrassed and upset if that happened to me. It happens all the time online with concern trolls, of course, but at my workplace? I would be devastated and not really want to show up to the office anymore.

      2. JSPA*

        Anorexia is fatal so much faster than obesity as to render this a very bad comparison. Severe domestic violence is the only thing that comes close. In both cases, a flyer with information (or ideally, multiple fliers, so it’s not only the eating disorder support group) posted inside the stalls of the ladies room, is as far as I’d go. An, “if you or someone you know is struggling” list of support group and hotline numbers (domestic violence, suicide, eating disorders, cancer survivor, food bank, addiction support etc) would be a broad public service, without drawing a target on a specific person.

      3. LW2*

        I think maybe I didn’t convey the severity of how sick she looked, but it wasn’t just her weight. A better analogy brought up in the comments is self-harming scars.

        Also being fat isn’t a symptom of being very ill.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Even with self harm the advice remains the same: unless there is an immediate danger to life (bleeding out) you don’t confront it. The dangers of an untrained person calling attention to it are too high.

          Additionally: yeah, being fat can be a symptom of being very ill. Biology is a strange and cruel mistress.

          I applaud your concern because it shows you care about others. But refocus your mind into believing that the kindest thing you can do is not say anything about it. Showing interest in the person, not their body, is far better. I’d react nicer to someone just being interested in me and not my scars/weight/mental illness etc.

          Trust me.

    10. nope that's not how EDs work*

      Yeah, no.

      It’s not about “offending” someone. Speaking as someone who has struggled with eating disorders in the past (and done a lot of research into treatment methods), I’m gonna go ahead and say that if this person *does* have an eating disorder and you go in with any variation of “i’m worried about your health, do you have an eating disorder” there is absolutely a ZERO percent chance that this person says “gee, you know what, you’re right, i hadn’t realized, i guess i’ll go magically get treatment now”.

      More likely reactions from someone with an ED? They’ll think to themselves “yes, people think i look sick, i must finally be getting close to thin enough, better keep up the good work”. Or, “fuck that person, it’s not their business, they can’t control me, i’m gonna restrict even harder out of spite, that’ll show them”. Or “fuck, people are going to notice, i’d better work extra hard to hide my behaviors because fuck if i’m gonna let myself get hospitalized for this”. EDs are *incredibly* difficult to treat and there is actually an incredibly high risk of making it worse by saying the wrong thing.

    11. darcy*

      absolutely do not under any circumstances comment on the body of a near stranger because you suspect they have an eating disorder. one of the easiest ways to trigger a relapse for a lot of people with an ED is to point out that other people are noticing the shape of their body and judging it, which is how anything you say is likely to be taken

    12. Phryne*

      In school, there was a girl who was very very thin. Being teens (17-18 yrs old mostly), we talked about it amongst each other (gossip if you will, though I can not remember it being malicious, just observational and curious) speculating she had an eating disorder. Halfway trough the year, she told in class that she had in fact a thyroid disorder. I was not in her class and this also made its way to my ears trough gossip.
      She should not have had to tell this in class to ‘defend’ herself, and I do not know her motivation or the circumstances for telling it though it is hard to believe the opinions of classmates had nothing to do with it. But I am grateful she did, because it taught me a valuable lesson.
      When, years later, I had to take several months of medical leave for the treatment of my mental health problems, and being well familiar with the way gossip travels through my workplace, I opted for telling coworkers straight out why I was going to be gone. (Without going into detail, I explained about my depressions but left out the underlying diagnoses). If I was going to be talked about, I preferred to be in control of the narrative. Responses were overwhelmingly positive (people came to me to tell me about their own struggles with mental health, so many people you know struggle with it without you knowing) and I was very very supported.

      But if some passing stranger would have come to me to tell me I was obviously ill and needed therapy… I can not begin to tell you how awful and humiliating that would be.
      You have absolutely no idea what is going on there. You are not a coworker, not a confidant, not a councillor or support worker, not her boss. Keep out of it.

      1. Phryne*

        To clarify, I do not have an eating disorder and my mental health is therefore not outwardly visible to any and everyone wanting to have an opinion on it… But imagine yourself going up to someone you barely know with a visible limp and telling them ‘you look unhealty, maybe have that leg checked out’, does that sound like an ok thing to do? Mental health is really no different than physical health.

    13. Inkhorn*

      This is exactly the sort of thing I dreaded when I was fighting & recovering from post-viral gastroparesis. I knew I looked ghastly, I was acutely self-conscious about looking ghastly, and was mortified if anyone decided to draw attention to that fact. Especially since an ED was the polar opposite of the truth. I wanted to eat! I was desperate to be able to eat and not be skeletal but my body just wouldn’t let me, and it was awful to be suspected of doing it deliberately.

      Even now that I look healthy I still try to avoid eating in front of anyone who doesn’t know my history. My stomach capacity only half came back, so a part of my brain is always waiting for the day someone sees how little I eat and leaps to the wrong conclusion. Comments like the ones here encouraging intervention just make me worry more.

      1. Jay*

        I had bariatric surgery five years ago just before I started a new job so I was rapidly losing weigh for the first year I worked there. We were mostly remote and met in person twice a month. Four months in, someone pulled me aside and said “I noticed you’ve lost a lot of weight and wanted to make sure you were OK.” I wasn’t distressed by this at all – but if the weight loss had been due to illness or an eating disorder, I would have been horrified and ashamed.

        My weight is stable and I look average-sized, so now I have people worried that I don’t eat enough when I go out to dinner and eat either an appetizer or a small part of an entree. Really, people, don’t comment on what other people eat except to say “oh, that looks yummy.”

    14. Keymaster of Gozer*

      From someone who’s both been far too thin due to an ED and now seen as ‘far too fat’ due to disability: seriously don’t get involved.

      Unless there is an obvious immediate danger to life (someone losing consciousness, symptoms of a stroke etc) it’s not your concern to speculate as to what their health might degenerate too.

      I dare say some of the people who criticised my food back at one firm were kind hearted and trying to ‘stop me dying early from obesity’ but what it actually did was drop me straight back into my ED and ensure I would never, ever, trust anything that person said again. At all.

      It is all very well saying it might make a huge difference but it may very well make a huge negative difference. Seriously don’t go there.

    15. Petty Betty*

      From experience: every time my son or I have ever been accused of an eating disorder – we didn’t have one. We just weren’t performing health and eating with the gusto (or ladylike quality, in my case) expected of us.
      My son has stomach disorders that cause him an inability to absorb nutrients, among other things. I was a small person prior to an injury and I’ve never been a “regular” eater (I do eat, just not on a standard schedule).
      Leave people alone when it comes to their health. If you aren’t close enough to them to be in the know already, then you aren’t close enough to them to be anyone to “help” (concern troll, in my opinion) them. Especially if you’re wrong.

    16. Radish Queen*

      I think it’s actually very hard to determine if someone needs medical attention if 1) you are not a doctor 2) you don’t know them very well (ie: over a longer period of time) and 3) you are judging this from appearances.

      I know you’re just trying to be find. But not everyone with a severe eating disorder looks frail and skinny, and not everyone frail and skinny has an eating disorder.

      I agree with Allison that being kind and treating them normally is the best course of action.

    17. Payne's Grey*

      You’re not risking ‘offending someone’, though. You’re risking triggering a relapse of an extremely dangerous condition.

    18. Pool Lounger*

      A further issue with this is that getting treatment for mental illness and eating disorders specifically is hard. Finding a competent therapist, outpatient or inpatient program, and/or psychiatrist is hard and often takes lots of money, good insurance, and time. Almost everyone with a mental illness can share horror stories of terrible experiences. Read a few memoirs of people with eating disorders—lots of stories there. So IF this person has an eating disorder, IF they’re not already in treatment, IF a stranger’s words don’t make it worse, what would you do to actually help them get help? What would you do that their family and friends and doctors aren’t doing? Usually the answer is nothing.

    19. Moira Rose's Closet*

      “I feel that in some rare circumstances it’s better to risk being wrong and offending someone than to stand by while someone who really needed help ends up dying.”

      This would apply when you happen upon someone who is struggling in a body of water and looks like they are in danger of drowning. Not when you meet someone who appears perfectly functional in a professional environment, just really thin.

      I’ll add my voice to the choir of people noting that this is dangerously terrible advice.

    20. Person from the Resume*

      The LW who barely knows the individual in question cannot be the only person who has noticed. The LW who barely knows the individual will not save her/convince her to get help (whatever you want the outcome to be) when no one else has yet.

      Family, friends, close colleauges (of which the LW is not one) have not yet “saved” this person. I’m using scare quotes because the LW doesn’t have enough information to know if the person is in treatment for an eating disorder or has another illnes or is currently in denial about having a problem.

      The one similar but also very different situation would be if a LW saw signs of an rare and uncommon illness that they had special knowledge of through experience. In that case it may make sense for the knowledgable person to say something to the potentially sick person about the rare illness being a possibility (not being pushy about them having it).

      An eating disorder is not the same. It is a mental illness that is notoriously difficult to get the sick person to accept that they are suffering from. A stranger telling them what they think will not open anyone’s eyes and has the potential to do more damage.

    21. thelettermegan*

      One thing the LW should note first and foremost is that there’s a lot of medical stuff, like an iron deficiency, that looks like an eating disorder. IBS can also restrict a person’s diet in severe ways.

      While the concern comes from a good place, we have to make sure our biases are not clouding our judgement. The LW has never seen anyone look like the graduate student except in news stories, but might not have taken the student’s mood and energy levels into account. I think there’s very little the LW can do aside from expressing a general interest in the student’s life and being open to sharing themselves. I think there’s also resources online about how exactly to tell when an intervention is needed and how to go about it.

      1. Observer*

        IBS can also restrict a person’s diet in severe ways.

        IBS is bad enough. Celiac and severe allergies can be even worse. Because with IBS, at least cross contamination is *usually* not that big of an issue. But with the others, cross contamination is a BIG deal. To the point that not eating with others is the only thing that makes medical sense.

        I’m not downplaying the severity of IBS (especially when someone is having a flare up!) I’m just adding to the list.

    22. Beth*

      Unless you’re trained in intervention, don’t try to do it. You are far more likely to do harm, or (at best) be incredibly obnoxious. The odds of you actually helping are microscopic.

      If you really really really want to be able to help, find a class in how to do interventions. And pay attention to the instructor when they tell you when not to do it.

    23. X*

      I have an eating disorder.

      Every time someone comments on my body and my eating habits, as if it’s their business and they have a right to, it makes me never want to eat again. ESPECIALLY if the person is someone I barely know.

      This kind of situation is one where it’s best to keep your mouth shut. You aren’t that person’s family, BFF, or doctor. STFU.

    24. Boof*

      The problem is, for eating disorders specifically, you are either wrong and traumatizing someone with a different health issue because most likely you are the upteenth person to bring it up, or you are right and probably exacerbating it because a lot of ED management is about taking focus off appearance and what people think of you. A stranger really ought to not say anything directly unless the person brings it up.

    25. Observer*

      but I feel that in some rare circumstances it’s better to risk being wrong and offending someone than to stand by while someone who really needed help ends up dying.

      Except that your framing is factually incorrect and dangerous.

      I see that you haven’t actually bothered to read all of the responses posted here, and in other discussions of the matter. Because if you had, you would know that the reason people say to not do anything is that you attempts to help could actually cause serious damage – up to and including making the death you are worried about far more likely.

      yes, it may very well exasperate someone who has to hear this kind of thing all the time because of their body or medical situation.

      Exasperation is a stunningly clueless (and I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt here) and dismissive description of how this can (and often DOES) land with people who are seriously ill.

      And in some cases, such as ED, it’s highly likely to actually push the person further into dysfunction. Seriously, read what people who have been through this, either themselves or with close family, to understand how dangerous this can be.

      but once in a very very great while under extraordinary circumstances? You never know when you might make a huge difference in someone’s life.

      Yeah, but with something like this, that difference could be the worst thing that could happen to them.

    26. Pugetkayak*

      I think this may be more of the case if they had a pre-existing relationship. From a random person I think its really overstepping. But if you have someone you trust say it, it could help. We have been taking mental health trainings to identify and reach out to people we think may need help in an appropriate way as managers. If we see someone in crisis and do nothing, it seems awful. It’s so individual, but I would have felt supported if a trusted colleague of mine had expressed concern during my ED. But thats just it a TRUSTED colleague who did not diagnose me but expressed concern.

    27. Humble Schoolmarm*

      CW this story ends sadly

      In my first job, I had a colleague who, I imagine, looked very much as the LW describes. It was a barely written rule at that workplace to take new people aside and let them know that we don’t talk about E- and never to ask questions about her situation. As far as I could tell, no one did. I suspected it was an ED, but honestly, it could have been something else as it really was never discussed. Sadly E- passed away a few years after I moved on. I still sometimes wonder if we did the right thing as a group, given the poor outcome, but I don’t think, individually, my questions or expressions of concern would have changed things.

  8. my 8th name*

    Is it possible John has severely mismanaged the blue team, and Sarah is just asking a peer from the red team questions to get a better frame of reference of how things should work? Is it possible she considering transferring over and trying to learn more? Don’t assume it’s adversarial just yet! I would definitely take Alison’s advice and try to ask why she’s asking.

    1. Despachito*

      This was the first thing that crossed my mind – that Sarah is doing a reality check whether their team is really doing it so wrong. I’d definitely ask why she is asking.

    2. Dancing Otter*

      “Why do you ask?” is the polite way to address nosy or impertinent questions. Bonus points for looking astonished.

      If Sarah has a good reason, she can tell you.
      If not, perhaps she will realize that what she’s asking is really not her concern.
      And you will not have been rude.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I don’t think OP has to look astonished. Genuinely curious may be a better route. We’re not sure if Sarah is being nosy or impertinent.

    3. Purely Allegorical*

      This is where my mind went, too. My work has a similar set up — two different teams doing similar things, where the process in theory should be the same and the output from each team should be the same. Unfort I’m on the severely mismanaged team, so we are always behind and always dealing with a higher workload. Asking questions of our sister team gives us the data to prove to the higher-ups that are severely mismanaged.

      No need to go into a convo w Sarah being needlessly adversarial.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I definitely second the “why are you asking” reply. If Sarah is trying to get information to make sure her standards match yours (assuming you are all on the same level and part of the process), it’s totally reasonable. And it can also bring out some extra details to better frame an answer to Sarah.

      But all of this is moot if you do not work the same processes as Sarah’s group.

  9. John K.*

    A manager was hired to run my team (it was just me) in October. He did something really stupid (took work home in a very insecure way) and was fired around Feb/March. He shared his resume publicly on his website and just like that his tenure at his previous role was extended several months and was listed as ‘current’. Risky move.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      Risky indeed, especially after being fired.

      I previously worked in a field where housing was part of our compensation. One of my colleagues said he also had credentials in medicine, and said he was still doing that other type of work on weekends. His housemates noticed that he wasn’t where he said he was, and raised the issue with the director. He was terminated on the day of our weekly staff meeting where our director explained our former colleague had fabricated his credentials.

      He was actually excellent at the job he’d been hired for. There was no need to make up the stuff about his training in medicine. Management was unable to share more details about what had happened, so it was a mystery about how he made it past the reference check stage and got hired.

      1. Despachito*

        Please help me understand this:

        he said he was doing a medicine-related, workplace-unrelated side gig on weekends, his housemates found out he wasn’t, and told the director, and the director then fired him (perhaps because they delved deeper in his credentials and found they were fabricated?)

        1. WoodswomanWrites*

          Yes, that’s what happened. He made up the stuff about his medical credentials for a side gig on weekends. He was fired for fabricating credentials. Although these weren’t needed for the full-time job he was hired for, it was the lying that got him fired.

          1. Despachito*

            Thank you for the explanation.

            I must say that while what he did is awful, especially if it was a medical-related thing,
            I am side-eyeing the housemates a bit here too. It is difficult to me to imagine I expose somebody on the basis of information I have because of a quite intimate contact with him (like “he says he was providing healthcare at the Local Renaissance Faire, but in fact was at home watching the telly the entire day”).

            It was definitely immensely stupid of him to lie about things that could be so easily verified, and I assume it was in the long last correct they told on him but still… I would not want to be in their shoes.

            1. I should really pick a name*

              WoodswomanWrites said that housing was part of compensation, so I’d guess that the housemates were coworkers.

                1. I should really pick a name*

                  I’m not sure if I’d do it or not myself, but I’m curious where you see the problem?
                  Not trusting someone in a medical situation is kind of scary to me.

                2. Despachito*

                  Response to “I should really pick a name”, it does not let me nest it to your comment.

                  For me, it would be completely different if there was a workplace-related situation where the coworker would be required to provide medical assistance for which he has not been trained.

                  But in this case, I understand that the coworker claimed that he had some sort of medical qualification, and that he was doing that as a side gig during the weekends, but he wasn’t. What puzzles me is how could I, as his housemate, be sure enough that he is lying and that he does not have the qualification, that would justify telling my boss? I mean, I can see him at home during the weekends but for all I know he may not be needed over all weekends? How does that imply he does not have the qualification he claimed to have? I also would probably not track him the entire time to be sure that he was home during ALL the weekend.

                  Or perhaps it is just that I loathe the idea of loss of privacy coming from living with your coworkers, spending your free time with them and providing them with plenty of your private information they can use against you.

                3. I should really pick a name*

                  @Despachito
                  A lot of your questions are details that we don’t know. We don’t know how sure the housemates were that the coworker was lying.

                  But if they have at least a reasonable suspicion, I don’t see a problem with reporting their concern. Presumably, the coworker’s director asked them what was going on, and didn’t fire them with no questions.

                  To me, lying about credentials is a big enough deal to say something about.

                4. PollyQ*

                  I think there’s a pretty good chance this wasn’t the only thing he was dishonest about, but this may have been the most clear-cut example the co-workers had.

            2. Ann Ominous*

              I wonder if the housemates thought he could potentially be put in positions of higher responsibility/decision-making/scope of potential impact on people if they thought he was, say, an EMT when in fact he was just-CPR trained? Just speculating here, I can’t imagine telling on someone to their boss except in egregious situations like they were a drunk bus driver or airline pilot.

              1. Venus*

                They were coworkers, so it would be easy to make a comment to one’s boss on Monday morning to say that NonMedicalColleague was at home instead of the hospital or whatever it happened to be. It may have been unplanned, for example Boss asks about the weekend and someone comments on spending time cooking with NMC, or that it was a quiet weekend with only them and NMC in the home.

              2. Loulou*

                Right, I’m far from a narc but if I lived with a HCW who appeared to be fabricating their credentials or experience I would certainly report it…

                1. Lydia*

                  The thing is the work he was hired to do had nothing to do with medicine or health. He was fired for lying, not for not having the credentials.

    2. ScruffyInternHerder*

      The level to which I’ve witnessed someone lie to my face is something.
      Bonus: its all easily provable lies.
      Further, they seem to believe their own nonsense.

      Gob has been smacked straight into next month guys.

      1. Despachito*

        Yeah, I’ve witnessed something of that too… I think it was a case of pathological lying – this person did not have much personal gain from those lies, and it was someone I loved, trusted and considered to be my mentor, so it took me YEARS to find out a lot of what she said was BS.

        It still baffles me WHY. I should probably be long over it, and it was most likely a pathology, but sometimes I surprise myself thinking – WHY ON EARTH would I lie to a person who loves and respects me (and I think she was lovable and respectable enough WITHOUT the lies, while with the lies, all this was suddenly lost)

      2. Irish Teacher*

        I’ve mentioned before the manager I had as a work experience student who would lie right to my face about things that were not only easily disprovable but that I KNEW to be false because I’d been there when they happened.

        She didn’t seem to believe it or even to care if anybody else did, though. If called on it, she’d laugh and say she didn’t think we’d believe her or something like that. It was like she was playing some kind of game to see how ridiculous she could get before being called on it.

        But it was at the point that you couldn’t believe ANYTHING from her. Even the simpliest things that you would never think anybody would BOTHER lying about. Even if she just said “oh, I was talking to X this morning,” you had to doubt it because otherwise you tended to end up in situations like meeting X yourself and saying “oh, boss mentioned she was talking to you yesterday” and getting a blank look because they hadn’t seen her in weeks.

        Again I think it was pathological.

  10. Sherry*

    If there’s this much debate over a term that’s supposed to just be an adjective on a resume, it’s a pretty good sign that he shouldn’t use the term, especially because it’s just a buzzword to the husband.

    With the grad student, both of you may want a bit more support in the field. see if you click and see if it makes sense to build a professional friendship. If it’s just a relationship built on worry that isn’t a great foundation, but if you have things in common, you may be able to support each other and that may be mutually beneficial.

    1. EmmaPoet*

      Excellent point. Whatever “servant leader” means to the resume service, it got a wide range of of reactions here that range from confused to uncomfortable to just plain weird. Since we have no idea what a potential interviewer might take it as, leaving it off sounds like the sensible choice.

      FWIW, my first thought was “This person wants to be a butler?,” followed by, “Is this a religious thing?”

      1. Observer*

        If there’s this much debate over a term that’s supposed to just be an adjective on a resume, it’s a pretty good sign that he shouldn’t use the term, especially because it’s just a buzzword to the husband.

        This x 1,000

  11. Luna*

    LW3 – I would be highly offended if anyone calls their employees (or even coworkers) ‘servants’.

    1. Despachito*

      I thought the “servant” is referring to the same person as the “leader” (as a humble thing to say “I am managing this, but I am not a “Big Boss”, I am just providing a good service to people”

      1. English Rose*

        Yes, the leader is being the servant to the people they lead. Serving them by focusing on the people’s career and personal development, not being in the job primarily to enhance the leader’s own career trajectory. It’s arguably an excellent way of leading people but others are correct, it has been co-opted to a large degree by a) the Christian right, and b) trendiness.

        1. Jackalope*

          The term is from an idea encouraged by Jesus, so I don’t think that Christians are co-opting it here.

          1. I'm just here for the cats!*

            It is not just christian based! it is a philosophical phrase that is secular

      2. DistantAudacity*

        yeah as English Rose says

        – it’s similar to how in ye olden days, some kings (or emperors or whatever, depending on where you are), took the approach that they were the “first citizen” and so subject to serve the nation and all its people.

        no words on how that went in practice, or how many did it, or what that actually meant in whatever historical context this took place, but there is some similarity of philosphy/thought here.

      3. Cat Tree*

        I think you have the right interpretation, but “servant” has no place in any employment context. The job is about trading labor for money, not about proving your fealty to a lord.

    2. Ash*

      Servant Leadership is a commonly used term in agile software development. Based on this and other responses, one should NOT put it on their resume if they are not in the field of (agile) software development.

    3. Not a Servant*

      Thank you for this validation! To be honest, I felt a little sick when I first saw it!

    4. MF*

      That’s actually not what it means at all. It’s an evangelical buzzword that is several decades old. It references the idea that, like Jesus, you are leading through service: acts of service are how you perform leadership and, in turn, you see leadership as a form of service.

      However, your comment raises a really good point. If someone is not familiar with this term, it can be easily misinterpreted. All the more reason to leave it off the resume!

    5. JSPA*

      Imagine it hyphenated. Same person is both servant and leader (leader by serving; leader by listening and collating and supporting their reports; leader who sees their job as facilitation.)

      When all goes well, it’s can be like having a super-admin with approval powers, rather than a boss; when all goes pear-shaped, it can be a lot like not having any leadership (or becoming the scapegoat yourself).

      Plus…some of the most me-focused, dare-i-say “functionally narcissistic” people I’ve ever dealt with talked this talk, but then wanted you to read their minds, so you could spontaneously propose the one best answer they were thinking about. Not a good dynamic in any relationship.

      If you’re doing it right you have results to show (team output, team promotion, team retention, team innovation, whatever). Conversely, if you’re using the term without having any such examples, then IMO, it’s some color of flag in the yellow-orange part of the spectrum.

  12. Lyngend (Canada)*

    Lw2, information on how to access any medical resources covered by the employer easily accessible? If you every talk to a large group of employees “I know the last few years have been stressful. With covid-19 and all that followed. If you need help, remember we offer [services] that can help you. Please reach out to [person whose job it is] if you need help or want more information. “

    1. LW2*

      Vaguely that’s what I was hoping for if I discretely mentioned it to someone else, but as a visitor I can’t really implement something like that.

  13. LW4*

    LW4 here. I did mention the situation to Claire, and she was just as confused as I was, which leads me to believe that I am not actually supposed to be monitored.

    Unfortunately there are some racial and political sensitivities to navigate, so I will take the wait and see approach for now.

    1. LW4*

      to answer some of the comments, she is not angling for a transfer to our team, because the teams function in different languages.

      However, the “being treated less fairly” part does sadly make sense. Where I am, my racial group did some horrendous things while they were in government, decades ago and now racism is very often the main go-to accusation when the blue team is called on performance issues.

      1. Drama Llama*

        Thank you for the update. Sounds like your instincts to gently deflect & not get pulled into drama is spot on.

      2. Smithy*

        Being mindful of that, I just want to double down on my advice of being cautious but kind.

        I think very often when these situations come up, being we can focus on setting boundaries and being cautious as the priorities and can miss how we might come off as cold. Not that there’s an intention to be mean, but that kindness can be seen as being weak or not establishing boundaries. I think there are ways of intentionally doing both and in a sensitive situation may be helpful in remaining in a positive position.

    2. Wisteria*

      But are you being monitored, though? Sarah is asking you questions, yes, but is she monitoring you? That’s a very specific intent that you are reading into her questioning. What if that’s not the case?

      1. LW4*

        @wisteria yes, she was definitely trying to monitor me. She came to me with a sheet of paper with all the blue team names, as well as mine. Beside each name was the title of the document the person was working and a comment like “100 pages out of 200 copied – deadline Friday”.

        1. Wisteria*

          Oh my. That’s a little more than the original description. That’s pretty relevant information to include in the question. Have you asked her what she plans to do with the information? I would certainly have quizzed her on what was going to be done with my answers if I saw that she had a document recording everybody’s work.

          1. LW4*

            It’s part of the micromanaging process. She was appointed by John to keep tabs on their team. However, she is dragging me into it, but as I said, since I was not directly contacted by my boss, I’ll just try to ignore it

  14. Susan Calvin*

    It is absolutely wild to me how negatively perceived (and apparently misunderstood) “servant leader” as a term is – I mean, Evangelical Christianity?? Wow. Quite possibly that is where it originates, but (being in IT) every time I’ve heard it used it’s been somehow about Agile team dynamics, how to be a Scrum Master and so on. It’s not a terribly impactful thing to put on a resume, but completely benign!

    1. Susan Calvin*

      (I should clarify, this is me having an epiphany about how specific this perception is to my field, not judgement on anyone who hasn’t been steeped in agile buzzwords for 20 years)

    2. Harper the Other One*

      I don’t think it’s fair to say that’s a misinterpretation. It is a valid, common interpretation of the term, and one that people using it in the workplace should be aware of. And just because your experience with it has been benign doesn’t mean everyone’s has – if you had worked under a “servant leader” of the Evangelical bent who also inserted religion into the workplace, gave preferential treatment to people with the right “values,” etc. you would have a totally different feeling about the term.

      1. Susan Calvin*

        Yeah, that was badly phrased – rather, “how many people would misunderstand me if I were to use it in the way I know it” because they just come at it from a vastly different background. It’s very much a learning experience for me here!

      2. Jellyfish*

        Yup. You can tell me it’s judgemental and wrong to associate the phrase with a particular subset of Evangelical Christianity after hearing it there for 30+ years, but that won’t change my initial reaction.

        I’ve heard people use “servant leader” in a business context. I’ve heard people use it in a religious context. I’ve heard people use it in a religious way at a secular workplace. Until I learn to read minds, I’m going to ask for some clarification about what exactly they mean by the phrase. I agree it’s risky at best to include it on a resume.

        1. Not a Servant*

          Right—if I saw it on a résumé, one of my interview questions would be to ask for an explanation.

          LW #3

    3. lilyp*

      Yeah I’ll contribute to the straw poll — working in tech in America and I wasn’t aware of any Christian connotations to the phrase until just now. I’ve heard it used to mean “a style of leadership that focuses on providing your team with the resources and structure they need to excel, and less on ordering them around”. I think it comes up more in tech where you get non-technical people managing engineers, and often the best way to get results is to make sure people know what the goal is and have the tools they need, and then essentially get out of the way and let them execute as they see fit.

    4. Just another queer reader*

      This is interesting! I commented above, but I learned the phrase as a kid in Catholic contexts; it comes from the Bible verse Luke 22:26.

      I personally haven’t heard it at work but I’m not in tech.

    5. OrdinaryJoe*

      I’m really surprised too! It’s not a term I personally use but have seen it used in multiple nonprofits (secular) to mean … serving the mission, supporting the donors and volunteers, ‘leading’ them while at the same time understanding that to some degree, the donors and volunteers and volunteer Board are the employee’s bosses, etc.

      I think I probably assumed it came from a religious background but in the US (or maybe around the world?) *SO* many things have that historical background, you can’t really ignore everything that as some point came from religion. In my opinion, the entire concept of non-profits comes from religion :-)

    6. Nopity Nope*

      Also in tech, first heard “servant leader” in Agile Scrum Master training. Had no inkling of any religious connotation, heard it as described by others, as a leader being “servant” (i.e., providing support and resources, removing roadblocks, etc.) to the people one leads. However, did have a visceral reaction to just the word “servant” in a corporate context.

      In the US, where you’re not likely to hear “servant” to refer to any employee, it feels squicky to hear that term applied to any employee, regardless of their place in the org chart.

      Bottom line, though, it seems to be creeping in in a tech context via Agile.

    7. Apples*

      The “servant leader” thing is so common across tech I’ve ranted a few times about how I wish we had a leader who WASN’T a servant! I can’t stand all the leaders/managers who take it to mean their job involves nothing but asking me what *I* want to do.

    8. Darsynia*

      I feel like there’s a lot of weight being put on use/misuse of the term but the meat of the concern is fear of being misunderstood or mis-categorized by having the term on a resume. If there could be a negative assumption by people unfamiliar with the term, is that worth it at the end of the day if you aren’t the one choosing to use the term but rather have paid a consultant who thinks it’s a good idea? In that framing, the divide between people who think it’s benign and haven’t heard of it used in X way, versus others who strongly identify it with a religion, seems to imply that there’s no safe consensus about its use and it ought to be avoided.

      Whether or not it *should* be considered benign, having such a disparity makes it risky on such an important document, basically. Everything else is (valid, discussable) background noise.

    9. Person from the Resume*

      To be clear for those not familiar, a scrum master is a unique role in Agile software developmnt and not a traditional leadership role. A key thing they’re supposed to do is assist in removing road blocks to a team members’s work. That makes sense that they’re a “servant leader.” They’re specifically not supposed to be managers (ie the project manager) or team leaders in the traditional sense. They also make sure the team follows the Agile framework.

      Despite knowing about agile and scrum masters, I also usually think of a servant leader as Christ / Christianity ajacent.

    10. Loulou*

      Reading the comments today feels kind of like when I learned “six sigma” was not just a 30 Rock joke! This type of jargon is impossible for me to take seriously. I’m guessing Alison shares some of my biases on that front as a non-profit person. Maybe this stuff lands better in the corporate world and we are all off base about it!

    11. Wisteria*

      I mean, in certain business situations, “pegging” and “unicorn” have benign meanings that outside the business community might raise eyebrows if included on a resume. At some point, you just have to pretend those other meanings don’t exist bc they aren’t relevant.

    12. fhqwhgads*

      If this many people can interpret the term this many ways, as we’ve seen in the previous replies, then it is not completely benign. It strongly suggests there is a widespread chance of the term being interpreted one of the 17 different ways we’ve seen suggested. Since it wasn’t a familiar term to the person whose resume it is, it’s difficult to judge whether the audience for that resume will interpret it the way the people who wrote it intended or one of the myriad other possibilities.
      FWIW, I’ve also been steeped in Agile for 10 years, and never heard this term before today.

    13. Observer*

      It’s not a terribly impactful thing to put on a resume, but completely benign!

      TO YOU, it’s completely benign. But to a lot of other people it is mot definitely not. And the history is definitely *not* secular and neutral.

      And the problem here is that even if you were objectively correct (which is not really possible) the simple fact is that a LOT reasonably well educated people are not going to see it the way you do. They *will*, however, see it in the ways that have been described. And with good reason.

  15. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    Re: #4…

    Weird Al Yankovic had a song in 2014 called “Mission Statement” that consisted entirely of buzzwords (sung in the style of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young).

    1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

      I remember watching the video for that when it came out! A new album with new videos every few days to match…summer 2014 was a great time to be a “Weird Al” fan.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      +1

      Many people think Weird Al only does parodies, but his original stuff is also hilarious. I sent “Mission Statement” to other members of our leadership team when Mandatory Fun was released.

      1. JustaTech*

        I may have posted a link to the “Mission Statement” video in a group chat after one really buzzword-heavy presentation from corporate.

  16. London Calling*

    LW3 – if I saw that on a CV I’d be less than impressed, mainly because I detest business jargon. BTW, it’s your husband’s CV, he can take off or add anything he wants.

    LW5 – noticed this a lot on Linked In. Apparently my predecessor’s predecessor in the job I left 18 months ago (and did for four years) is still doing that job.

    1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

      It’s far less egregious than linkedin, typically you can just chalk it up to the person not updating their linked profile.

      Putting it on your resume or talking about it in an interview is an affirmative statement that you are still at the job, i.e. lying. I have personally seen a candidate removed from consideration because he talked repeatedly about his current job in the interviews, but we found out he had left a month before. If he had been straightforward with us, we would have made him an offer.

    2. AbbyNobody*

      Yeah I barely use linked in, so it was listing my past job as ‘current’ well after I left, even though I updated my new job… because I didn’t realize that I had to end date my previous one. Since I never use the platform, over a year later I logged on for some reason and figured that out.

      Linked in for me is just another social media site, not particularly a good one, and I only interact if I have to, I am sure I can’t be the only one.

    3. Skippy*

      Lots of people don’t update their LinkedIn profiles very often, so it may be an issue of negligence rather than malice.

    4. KayBeeTee*

      I came here for this. Someone at my org was fired for cause a year ago and hasn’t been on LinkedIn very much since (and isn’t working anywhere else, from what we can see). However, this person recently started posting again on LI, hasn’t updated their employment (so it looks like they are still with us), and is now commenting/sharing posts about our vendors, saying things like “This vendor was great for our projects.” So they seem to be actively encouraging LinkedIn contacts to assume they work at my organization, which seems…shady? I dunno.

  17. Anna Badger*

    absolutely fascinating to see the disconnect between different groups regarding servant leadership. in my industry (tech) in my country (the UK) it’s table stakes for roles where you’re leading or co-leading a team – you will usually get asked about servant leadership in interviews, and you are expected to have considered, coherent examples of your approach. to my knowledge, none of my discussions of servant leadership have ever been with fundamentalist or evangelical Christians.

    and then there are people on the other side of the world saying that the term would cause them to toss a CV for religious connotations. this site is making me more and more cautious of any kind of ” you should always”/”you should never” advice that doesn’t include a sector and a region, because the advice those people are giving would be dreadful for people in my situation, and vice versa.

    1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

      I don’t hire leaders so what do I know, but I have never in my life heard of any religious connotation to servant leadership. I think all the resume-tossers should downgrade this from a red (toss) to a yellow (something to probe into) flag at worst.

      1. Anna Badger*

        I actually *don’t* think that, that’s my point – if people in particular industries in particular regions have noticed that the term correlates with a particular kind of behaviour that’s undesirable, then that’s a signal that they should listen to within their own contexts!

        the problem arises when they tell other people that the term is inherently a red flag and should always be treated as such, which would play havoc on your hiring round if you were trying to hire, say, an engineering manager in Manchester, because you would wipe out half your field in the CV review and the other half in the first interview.

        1. Payne's Grey*

          Yeah, this is like the time commenters from very different industries went to war over the term ‘project manager’ and who’s entitled to use it. It genuinely means different things in different contexts. and what you really need to know is what it means in YOUR context.

          1. Payne's Grey*

            (With a side of awareness that your context is not the only one, so it’s important not to jump to conclusions about others!)

          2. Anna Badger*

            yes, exactly. it’s almost like words are symbols that point to a particular concept in a particular context, rather than actually being that concept! almost like that!

        2. Smithy*

          I think this is also a great call out for absolutely how much jargon is in all of our workplaces. While some of it is very obvious, trying to truly remove all of it is both impossible and not helpful – because at some point that jargon becomes the language of our field. And that field being “engineering managers in Manchester” isn’t irrelevant even if it may be niche.

          I recently used the term “white whale” at work with someone who was unfamiliar with both Moby Dick and how we use the term white whale at work. As a sensible and computer savvy person, she looks it up online first – and there I am having to then double explain how we’ve made white whale a somewhat common term at work. Amongst a lot of people who’ve all never read Moby Dick.

      2. Loosy*

        I’d toss those resumes, not because of the religious connotations, but because it sounds like a bunch of hooey.

        1. Anna Badger*

          which will be fine in some concepts, but which will lose you some brilliant leaders in my context.

          servant leadership is important in agile development because leadership of a particular team or department sits between three or four people (design, engineering, product, sometimes delivery) so you need people who are committed to making the team function as a whole rather than being The Person In Charge. we need language to talk about that distinction, and the language we use right now is that of servant leadership.

          1. blueberry*

            This is what wikipedia says (with a citation): “Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the goal of the leader is to serve. This is different from traditional leadership where the leader’s main focus is the thriving of their company or organization. A servant leader shares power, puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible”. The article also mentions the clear christian roots and critique from a feminist/Black perspective

            That definition is very different from a management style to “make the team function well as a whole”. In my experience, that is completely normal management (for higher-end jobs, not e.g. factory jobs) these days. But managers who put needs of the employees above thriving of the company, that’s completely different.

            1. doreen*

              I don’t think that definition is entirely correct- specifically, the bit about about placing the employees’ well-being above the thriving of the company. It is not that the employees’ well-being is more important than the functioning of the company but rather a philosophy that promotes the idea that caring about the employees’ well-being will result in a thriving company as employees’ will be more engaged and productive if they feel supported.

          2. Loosy*

            In my industry, which is also very collaborative, we manage to have some great leaders who can make their teams function as a whole without using nonsense terms. We just call it good leadership.

            1. bamcheeks*

              you’re taking this weirdly personally! There’s no need to attack other people’s sectors because they use words you don’t like!

              1. Loosy*

                I think you’re reading something into my comments that isn’t there because there is no “attack” in either of my comments. I’m just pointing out that the style of leadership isn’t uncommon or specific to one industry. I just think its funny that this one industry decided to put some eye-rolly term on a concept that is actually very common.

                1. Loulou*

                  Agreed, that is also my take on terms like this! It feels very silly to me but if it works for people, that’s great.

                  But I feel this whole debate ignores what for me is the substance of Alison’s answer: subjective self assessment does not belong on your resume! If someone said they were a “dynamic” or “innovative” leader nobody would call that “religious,” but it doesn’t belong on a resume because who cares if you personally find yourself to be innovative? Show me your accomplishments so I can judge for myself.

          3. JSPA*

            I think you may be catching some vague, broad irritation from people in fields where funding is always tight, and core functions get juggled because essential roles can’t be filled.

            Along the lines of, “dang, if there were less money in tech to pay people to have overlapping management duties (whether labeled “Agile” or not), wouldn’t they still get just as much done, just with fewer meetings and less jargon?”

            That’s quite possibly not true–tech can be complex enough that no non-overlapping management structure would suffice–plus in terms of efficiency there’s something to be said for having everyone buy in to the same framework and use its jargon (whether or not that framework is intrinsically superior or not).

            Regardless, when tech-spawned terminology gets borrowed back into general business life with no justification, it’s going to chafe.

            Six-sigma was one thing, when it literally referenced six standard deviations from the mean; quite another when it ended up meaning, “nit-picky, judgemental, risk-averse and/or blowing smoke up the client’s ass about our own natural perfection.”

            1. PollyQ*

              “dang, if there were less money in tech to pay people to have overlapping management duties (whether labeled “Agile” or not), wouldn’t they still get just as much done, just with fewer meetings and less jargon?”

              I won’t comment on the general case, but I will say that switching to Agile made a HUGE difference in how much my department got done and the overall success of our projects. It isn’t just meetings and jargon.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yeah, I’m in the UK and I’m aware of it as a concept that gets thrown around —sometimes by people who have done the reading and have a meaningful definition for it, and sometimes by people who have half-heard of it and think it makes sense but don’t really have any deeper understanding. (I’m the latter!) I hadn’t come across it having any religious connotation although it makes sense.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I thought “you should never microwave fish at the office” had 100% buy-in and hoo boy it did not.

      Maybe “You should never make your employee leave a note on a grave.”

      1. Venus*

        My favorite: It is never okay to steal a spicy lunch and then fire the one who made the lunch.

        I agree with Anna Badger’s comment that many people here have very strong opinions about their red flags without appreciating that there are parts of the world and different workplaces that have different norms. I appreciate that Alison tends to remember this in how she words her responses.

      2. Gracely*

        Also “if your company gives people a day off on their birthday each year, that means everyone, even people whose birthdays fall on Leap Day.”

    4. Humble Schoolmarm*

      I think this is an important reminder that context matters so much in our assessment. For example, if I was applying for an education related job in my region, my resume should be full of references to classroom management, culturally relevant pedagogy and differentiation. If I was to apply for a job in the same sector but in a different region, some of those might be known by other jargon, or be seen as less of an asset. If I left education, two of those terms would be meaningless and the third would mean something completely different. I think it’s very valid to point out that *outside of a specific niche* the term can be interpreted in several negative ways.

  18. DistantAudacity*

    yeah as English Rose says

    – it’s similar to how in ye olden days, some kings (or emperors or whatever, depending on where you are), took the approach that they were the “first citizen” and so subject to serve the nation and all its people.

    no words on how that went in practice, or how many did it, or what that actually meant in whatever historical context this took place, but there is some similarity of philosphy/thought here.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I think at least with regards to America versus Europe with Servant Leader you have a very different cultural backdrop for the term because the Founding Fathers didn’t install a King when setting up the American Government’s structure. So it makes sense for a Servant Leader to be far more secular. But with a President who changes after set length terms of office, most Americans have more experience with the term Servant Leader in a religious setting.

    2. Verthandi*

      Back in the Roman Empire, “princeps” was the word used to denote that concept. According to a quickie google search, it originated during the time of Augustus. It’s where the word Prince comes from.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        This was Augustus making up a legal fiction that he wasn’t a military dictator–a relatively benign one, as military dictators go, but still… Not a great look in any context. But I associate stuff like “first citizen” with the post-revolutionary French Republic, which had more than its own share of issues, so still not a great look.

  19. FashionablyEvil*

    #1–that type of behavior seems (denying, blaming, deflecting, etc.) like it was probably learned in a dysfunctional family of origin or a really toxic former workplace. Not that it’s not fixable, but I would expect it to be slow and something that the employee has to work pretty hard to change.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Very much agree.
      People in a fragile state often believe they cannot make any mistake.

      OP, it might be good to talk about what mistakes are a big deal and what mistakes are small potatoes. You can also talk about what happens when people make mistakes. (They are asked to correct it. GASP!)

      You may have to tell her point blank that you are only interested in having employees who take responsibility for their work without blaming others.

      Keep in mind that she sincerely believes one mistake will blow up her job and possibly her life as she has now.

      One strategy I have used is to say, “Okay we are not here to talk about specific people. We are here to work out strategies so this problem does not come up again. This just involves us developing an action plan for you to follow.”

      1. Daisy*

        Another vote that folks who grew up where any mistake was treated as the end of the world – there was no differentiation between small, easily-corrected slips and major life-altering problems – were often taught to never, ever admit to problems/they don’t know the answer/ask for help. Anxiety will definitely make this trait worse.
        It is important to be very clear on what you expect – and if they have problems, questions, think something may be heading in the wrong direction, etc. they should definitely reach out to you early (and you won’t shoot the messenger). It is suggested to use phrases like “Good catch!” instead of “That was a near miss.” to foster a feeling of positivity around bringing issues up early.

        1. New Mom*

          This is really good advice. I notice some of my coworkers cannot admit any fault, even in situations where doing so would make the situation better, like showing up late to a meeting and not acknowledging it. I don’t think they realize how badly it makes them come across, and it can result in people losing professional respect for them.

    2. RC Rascal*

      The blaming can also be a sign of self centeredness and narcissism. Many of the hard core blamers I have know simply refuse to acknowledge how there own behavior contributes to situations.

      There is another possible explanation: this employee may be someone who has issues with accountability. Some people just can’t handle more responsibility and blaming is an indication of that.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Yup. If I find myself sitting at a bar next to one of these guys, I move to the other end of the bar.

  20. A non*

    I got very very I’ll at the very start of my junior year of high school. I lost about 15 pounds in about a week and a half. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t swallow at all. I got hit by it three days into the school year, missed four days the week of labor day, was back for the next week and a day… At which point I relapsed and missed another four days. For months all I did was go to school and go home and sleep.

    But… Right when I went back to school after round two, a teacher from my prior year saw me in the hall. They pulled me into an empty classroom because they were immediately concerned – probably that I was on drugs or had developed an eating disorder -i don’t remember. All I wanted in the whole world was to make it to my next class – which had moved to a new room while I was gone and I didn’t know where. Now I was going to be late, have everyone stare at me… And was suddenly painfully aware that my illness was visible to everyone.

    This did not do anything to make my life better or easier. It made it much worse and harder. And I don’t think of that teacher as kind and caring, but as a nosy busybody. They could have checked in with my current teacher who would have confirmed that I had been out sick and was recovering.

    Even somebody who knows you fairly well can dork it up and make it harder. A stranger is basically guaranteed to do harm or at a minimum be exasperating.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This.

      Stay within what is under your watch, OP. If she requests more time to do X project then grant the time without making it a huge belabored discussion. There are probably other ways you can remain just her teacher and use your position to be supportive, such as offering a well-earned encouraging work regarding her work.

    2. SpoonieAnon*

      This. I was naturally skinny as a young person and then had Glandular Fever and lost a lot of weight. I looked sick because I was sick and it took a long time to get completely better and then to gradually regain the weight. Because I was young, female had obviously other mental health stuff going on (actually undiagnosed-because-it-was-the-90’s autism) many people assumed I must have an eating disorder (it was made worse because at the time my vegetarianism seen as a weird fringe thing and because I do have some sensory issues around certain food that was interpreted as “fussiness”)
      Some (too many) of the assumption-making-people decided they just had to be the person say something – sometimes it was multiple people in one day. It was the opposite of helpful – it was exhausting and stressful when I was already exhausted and stressed by the illness. I ended up having to perform “having a healthy appetite” in front of them at a time when I was already struggling physically (and mentally) just to manage their anxiety.

      Please don’t make (what I’m sure is genuine and well meant) concern about someone more about managing your worries than helping them. Do not assume that you can tell what is going on with someone mentally or physically just from looking. And don’t assume that someone not eating a specific meal on one occasion must be an ongoing pattern.
      Do be aware that lots of physical health issues (and/or treatments for them) that cause weight loss may also make it hard for the person to eat at times.
      Do make sure there is information about support for both eating disorders and for living with long-term illness and invisible health conditions available.
      If someone isn’t eating while others are then ask them ONCE if there’s anything they would prefer or if they would like a meal/snack break at another time that would suit them better – but don’t make a big fuss about it.
      Do generally ask people (in sensibly unstressed and as private as possible conditions and in a way that normalises individuals having individual needs ) if there is any support/adaptations that would benefit them.

    3. Pugetkayak*

      But adults SHOULD express concern to someone that can help when it’s a child. Not a single adult helped me after developing an ED at 13, and here I am, 27 years later still struggling because I did not get help earlier enough. This is different than adults in a work environment. If it is a child, you should raise it with someone.

      1. Observer*

        If it is a child, you should raise it with someone.

        Well, yes. But “someone” did not have to be A Non. In this case, the teacher had many people to check with. And SHOULD have started elsewhere. Because even with a child, if the problem is an ED, you are still dealing with the same dangerous dynamic.

        You needed help. But would it actually have helped you if some random teacher who barely knew your name came over to you and told you to “start eating right”? Or to “get help”? The only thing a teacher who doesn’t really know you at that point is to talk to your parent / guardian and say “I’m really concerned about Pugetkayak. Please take this seriously and try to get them some help.”

        1. A non*

          Yes. There’s also the issue of assuming it’s an eating disorder. It wasn’t – I mean, unless being unable to physically swallow anything for over a week counts.

          So imagine you do NOT have an eating disorder but somebody makes a comment that tells you that you look like you do. Does that help you? Now you sit in class and wonder “who is speculating that I’ve got an eating disorder?” Seems more likely to cause issues than help, doesn’t it?

      2. A non*

        To SOMEONE, not to the student randomly and jarringly in the middle of passing period (also, I was nearly 17, so not quite a child, but not an adult).

        If there’s a concern of abuse or neglect, that goes to the administration – not the student. If there’s a concern on health, that would go through the nurse to the parents. If it’s more a general concern, like “finals seem to have you stressed” sure a teacher who is close to a student might bring it up, but that’s a bit different from accosting last year’s students in the hall, demanding answers, and making them late!

        Also, they did not “express concern” they cornered me, made me late, interrogated me, made me feel bad, and exacerbated my illness!

        Expressing concern is: “Hey, I’d like to catch up, when’s your free period?” or “I’d love it if you stop by my office hours they are from X-Y” or “hey, if you need to talk, I’m available, just let me know” It’s NOT “you look terrible – have you lost a lot of weight – what’s going on” after physically grabbing you and dragging you out of a hallway!

        Also, they were NOT in a position to help. I had a viral infection… I was seeing a doctor. There was not a thing they could do, that is the danger of thinking “well SOMEBODY has to help” – you are already making assumptions. I’m sorry nobody helped you, but that doesn’t make THIS behavior right!

  21. oh no*

    “servant leader” just gives me flashbacks to my Christian high school lmao. jesus was all about that servant leadership thing apparently!

      1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

        This reply is cracking me up. XD I’d really like to see “oh, worm?” make a comeback in more of my online hangouts and never go away.

  22. o_gal*

    LW2 – if he is a Scrum Master on an Agile software development team, then the term “servant leader” is very appropriate. It’s what we are supposed to be, and does not have any religious context. But if he was a SM he would already know about that, and not be getting it froma resume service. Ditch it, as others have suggested.

    1. blueberry*

      I would still not recommend to put it on a resume even for a scrum master position, for all the reasons already mentioned, but in addition to that: a scrum master is not a leader! I know that scrum certification sees this differently, but that’s because they are in the business of selling certification and of course want to make it sound important. A scrum master’s scope is limited to the project they’re working on and they lack the power to truly empower the people who are working on the team with them. I would be worried that someone who applies for a scrum master position who sees themselves as a leader, let alone a “servant leader” would be massively overstepping. Scrum master is the kind of job that takes a pretty simple certification, and this is language that tends to be associated with Jesus and Martin Luther King. People who do not see that that can be problematic are not leaders.

      I also still find using the word servant inappropriate even if there is context where no religiosity is meant or implied. In IT, there are many terms like master/slave and a “master branch” where there is no direct association with slavery. Still, it is thankfully becoming more common to switch to for example “main” instead of master (even though that is not a trivial change) because the connotation is there, and it is harmful.

      I would also consider that an HR person doing the first screening might not be familiar with how this term is being used in a specific context, and also have an initial negative reaction.

      1. Coach*

        This comment is bonkers. I’m a scrum master/agile coach and I lead 3 teams, a total of 27 people dedicated team members and 13 additional supporting team members. I’m directly responsible for empowering these colleagues to excel in their individual contributions and their shared team goals. I design experiments for their ways of working – I do capacity planning with them, estimation of effort, prioritization, I establish methods to improve their metrics, I remove their roadblocks including the ones that involve me going to bat for them with senior leadership. I help them prove how good they are at their jobs and I help them communicate and collaborate with each other in new ways. Scrum master certification may be easy to get, but being a scrum master of multiple cross functional teams in a global company during an agile transformation isn’t anything like you describe. I’m not a leader in the sense that I’m c-suite, I lead my teams to success with my expertise about SLDC and product delivery, institutional knowledge about my company and industry, and my expert coaching skills. People want to be on my teams. You say you’d be worried someone applying for a scrum master job sees themselves as a leader – I’d be worried if they didn’t.

    2. Dr. Rebecca*

      For those of us not on an Agile software development team, the term “Scrum Master” sounds like a sports term. *shrug* It’s really about frames of reference, and that’s a VERY specific frame of reference, using a term with multiple meanings. It’s like if you started talking to someone who doesn’t read AAM about chocolate teapots or wakeem.

      1. o_gal*

        That’s because it is a sports term, direct from a rugby scrum. They just took the term and applied it to a particular style of software development.

  23. Michelle Smith*

    There are tons of resume services out there that take people’s money and provide subpar products. Unless your husband is a church leader looking for religious positions, which is the only context I can think of where that phrase wouldn’t immediately make me gag, I’d consider this service to be one of those and cut your losses now.

  24. Michelle Smith*

    LW5: Don’t listen to bad advice. You did the right thing by asking Alison instead of trusting advice that felt unethical to you when reading it. Your gut is correct and so is Alison – lying on your resume is a stupid idea.

    A much better one is to come up with good and truthful responses (even if vague) to the “why did you leave your last job” question. Even better still, if she has the capacity to take on some skills-building courses or contract/temp work while she looks for a next position, she can round that answer out by explaining what she’s been doing in that gap (assuming it takes more than a few more weeks for her to find a new position).

    Tell her to think about it this way – does she really want to work for someone toxic again? Isn’t it toxic to think an employee should never quit a toxic job without having something lined up first? Or to think negatively about someone who has an extremely small employment gap? If the hiring manager is ruling her out because she’s been unemployed for a month like most human beings on the planet have experienced, she doesn’t want to work for that person anyway.

    1. Jzilbeck*

      “If the hiring manager is ruling her out because she’s been unemployed for a month like most human beings on the planet have experienced, she doesn’t want to work for that person anyway.”

      Kinda curious if there’s any hiring managers on here who could elaborate on the lengths of unemployment time that would be concerning in today’s job market…

      1. Skippy*

        I can only speak for myself, but I’ve hired for lots of positions over the years, and if I were to exclude every candidate who has ever been laid off, stepped out of the workforce for personal or professional reasons, or worked at a job for only a brief time, I would end up with an extremely short list of candidates for each job.

        With all of the tumult of the past two decades, very few people have perfect resumes — particularly if you work in a field like mine (the arts) that has lots of women with caregiving responsibilities, and is impacted negatively by every single economic downturn.

  25. Catabodua*

    For LW2, as others have said, I have only heard servant leader in a ultra religious context and it would immediately put that resume in the “No” pile for me. I’d think they couldn’t keep their proselytizing separate from their work life and they’d be a pain in the ass in the office.

    It’s similar to me on why it was so important to put your Eagle Scout achievement on your resume years ago, long after it made any sense to have it there. It was used a dog whistle to indicate white, straight and male.

    1. Delta Delta*

      Your comment about the Eagle Scout is interesting to me. I knew one person who was an Eagle – it was a school friend of mine. He designed his project and worked really hard on it, and even as a kid I always admired his follow-through on his commitment. Because of that I always had a positive mental connection with someone achieving the Eagle Scout level. I see what you’re saying, though, how it can also say something totally different. In any case, I suppose the usefulness of keeping that on a resume after the age of 25 or so anyway.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Being an Eagle Scout is one of those things that might make sense to put on your resume at the beginning of your career, but soon ages out, like being proud of playing quarterback on your high school team.

      2. Catabodua*

        To be very clear – it is an amazing achievement for many.

        But as said below, if it’s still on someone’s resume after they have real work experience, it’s a huge red flag to me.

  26. Nuke*

    LW2 – I’m a 30 year old woman who weighs about 108 pounds. I only broke 100 pounds when I was like, 16, and I haven’t weighed over 110 once in my life. I cannot tell you how many times people have tried talking to me out of “concern” for how “deathly skinny” I am. I want to believe OP when they say this student looked only like terrifying photos they’ve seen of dying people… but people have said that about me. For the record, I’m completely healthy according to my doctor (“you’re underweight… but it’s stable! you’re just built like that”), but the amount of times I’ve had to go into way more detail than necessary to appease coworkers, near strangers, etc about my weight is ridiculous. Everyone else did a better job than me explaining what could happen if she DOES have an eating disorder. But it’s entirely possible she just looks like that. I’ve never thought myself to look extremely sickly or anything like that, but people have told me I do because my shoulder bones stick out. It’s extremely upsetting, and has made me very self-conscious about my body, which I cannot remotely help.

    So many times I’ve seen tabloid photos of celebrities going around and I think “boy, she looks just like me!” only to see the caption be something like “so-and-so looks like a disgusting dying skeleton at the beach! is she on some new crazy crash diet?!” and all the comments are diagnosing her with illnesses and saying something MUST be wrong. It’s so beyond inappropriate.

    1. Moira Rose's Closet*

      +1 to all of this. I have also been clinically underweight at times in my life. I naturally have a very small frame. Several of my bones stick out. I’m just built like this.

      The ridiculous thing is that I struggled with an eating disorder on and off for many years, and the times when it was “on” were actually the times that I looked heavier! The point is that it’s nigh impossible to know what is really going on with someone else’s body.

      1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

        +2 Except I haven’t dealt with an ED, although I’ve had a lifelong complicated relationship with food due to an abusive upbringing. The health problems I have are not weight-related. So tired of people “subtly” asking about my size and diet because I’m chronically underweight. You’re not subtle, and you’re not as clever as you think you are. You’re just nosy, intrusive, and rude. Mind yer own.

        1. smeep248*

          as someone that has always been obese, my friends on the opposite side of the weight spectrum and I commiserate on this a lot. It sucks that people feel like your weight is indicative of 1) your health and 2) your worth and 3) that they deserve to have and share an opinion about it.

          1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

            It really is so annoying and rude! If you’re carrying “extra” weight, society thinks you’re a gluttonous slob who’s one step away from a heart attack because all you do is eat candy and chips all day. If you don’t weigh “enough,” society thinks you’re an incompetent waif hiding an eating disorder, and you’re probably stuck-up and obsessed with your own reflection to boot.

            Either, way, we can’t win with these people. Who I guarantee have some mud they need to be cleaning off their own faces before they go getting all judgmental about others’.

        2. Nuke*

          I completely understand the complicated relationship with food. 3 entire decades of “Oh, you must eat only air!” and having coworkers constantly go “UGH I wish I could EVER eat that food!!!” when I’m having a single slice of pizza for lunch has just absolutely exhausted me. People have so many opinions on what I eat, how much, how often, I’ve got some advice for you to gain weight, you gotta get meat on those bones!! Are you my nutritionist or like, my parent? No? Then butt out!

          1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

            Oh my GOD, but I could’ve written this comment!

            And then, if you eat salad–because salads are generally healthy, and sometimes you just crave one instead of a hoagie or burrito!–you get all the snide/concerned remarks about how you’re starving yourself, go eat a steak before you blow away in the wind, is that really ALL you’re having, why don’t you get some REAL food in you, etc.

            Although…now I’m craving steak and salad. I had to write this comment before lunch, didn’t I….XD

            1. JustAnotherKate*

              My nasty boss literally said to me “you’re skin and bones, eat a cookie!” and “don’t you know how many calories are in [your lunch]? Women our age need to be careful or we’ll blow up like a balloon!” IN THE SAME WEEK. She also asked if I was bulimic because I went to the bathroom immediately after meals (I was going there to use my dental floss; my teeth are super close together, so having food in them is uncomfortable).

              I finally managed to shut her up when she told me in a meeting I looked like I was “wasting away” and I said point blank “Stop talking about my body.” She was still hella nasty about other stuff, but she must not have wanted to be known as the person who thinks too much about her employees’ bodies. Everyone has some limit, I guess!

    2. LW2*

      I don’t want to get graphic, but she didn’t look like images of photoshopped celebrities. She looked really sick, not just “too thin.” She had other visual symptoms. She might not have an ED, but she was definitely sick.

      1. LW2*

        Maybe I can say it like this: I’ve never seen a working actor or model look as sick as she looked, except one who was explicitly doing a PSA for anorexia, and who died about a year after that PSA.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Gentle respect again: what you’ve seen actors or figures in the media represent are often not indictative of real life at all – they’re a very, very tiny subset of the population.

          Having spent a LOT of time round various hospitals as a patient I’ve seen people who’d you likely regard as ED sufferers two days away from death but who’d be highly insulted to be considered that. Certain medical treatments can cause a sudden loss of weight while being undergone, some conditions can cause weight gain to be darn near impossible (just like some can cause weight loss to be impossible).

          Fact is, while it’s human to be shocked by the outliers of weight – it’s not an indication of life expectancy unless you are their doctor and know exactly what is going on.

          Your concern is human nature. But it’s empathetic to say nothing about it and just treat them like normal human beings no different than someone in the ‘normal health ranges’. Trust me – that’s all we want.

  27. Littorally*

    #5 – When a company doesn’t want to provide actual references because they’re afraid of slander accusations or starting drama, what’s their default anodyne response? We will only confirm dates of employment. Even the super cautious don’t-wanna-say-nuthin companies generally do that much. So your dates of employment seem to me to be the shining star example of what you should not lie about.

    Not that any lying is good, of course, but this seems like the kind of lie that’s at highest risk for being found out. Just don’t do it.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I knew someone collecting unemployment who was advised to backdate “consulting” on his resume. The unemployment office then called to ask why he hadn’t told them about the new job.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      This. Our policy is to only confirm title and dates of employment, and, only if the former employee agrees to release it, salary info.

      The background checks we do as a part of any post-offer due-diligence also includes employment verification. If you lied about those (not off by a week or just couldn’t remember the exact last day, but representing you are still employed when you’re not or listing over a month after actual departure), you should expect to have your offer pulled.

  28. I should really pick a name*

    I’d love to know how these conversations with LW1’s employee end.

    Does the employee just deny responsibility, and that’s it, with no consequences?

    1. Can't fix it*

      My mom does this. The conversations go in circles. It’s always:
      “I didn’t say that.”
      “You totally misunderstood what I said.”
      “You’re twisting my words.”
      “You are misinterpreting what I said.”

      The conversation usually ends with some form of “I’m so hurt you thought thats’s what I said. You just don’t understand me at all.”

      Gaslighting. Manipulation.

      usually ends

      1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

        Ugh, yes, this is also my mother, with an added dose of, “I don’t remember doing that [which means that it didn’t happen even if you have unedited video of me doing it. And if you keep pressing the issue, I will blow up and scream at you until you drop it. Which makes you the bad person for pushing me into yelling at you and makes me the REAL victim here].”

    2. DisneyChannelThis*

      I had a similar experience. I’d try to wrap up with like “regardless of whose fault it was I need you to do XYZ in its entirety in a timely manner. Do you understand? Do you need me to review the steps for any part of XYZ with you?” and Sam would just go “But I want you to understand it’s not my fault XYZ was done terribly and incomplete its *excuses*” and refuse to acknowledge what I was saying. (And it 100% was her fault, a lot of lying to my face in these conversations). She lasted less than 6months and was fired.

    3. Critical Rolls*

      Yeah, I got to the part about “can’t fire her right now for various reasons” and thought, my advice would be to adjust things to make her fireable. She’s a drag on the team, and if she can’t shape up you’re gonna need to ship her out, or you’ll lose the people you *want* to keep who don’t want to deal with her incompetence and dramatics and blaming and gaslighting.

  29. Jones*

    “We’re also both women in a male-dominated field, and I know how totally oblivious our colleagues can be”

    Wow ok! I don’t even know where to begin with this. There are some occasions where people can still notice and care about other people around them when they might happen to be “male”.

    1. OrdinaryJoe*

      Second! You don’t need two X Chromosomes to notice, care, pay attention, etc. I might not notice shoes but if an employee or volunteer is in distress, I’m going to notice, care, and see about getting help.

      1. Jones*

        Thank you. I feel like these stereotypes are really harmful especially for men working in caregiving roles.

      2. JSPA*

        I read that as two separable facts.

        A) oblivious field (ie something data or engineering or chem focused, where the attention is on the problem, to almost complete exclusion of noticing one’s coworkers / labmates)

        B) being the only one of X (whatever X may be) is further isolating (especially against lingering background assumptions that people who are “X” do not belong in the field).

        Not, “durrrr, boys are stupid and clueless and too shy to say anything and conflict averse and smelly, durrrr.”

    2. Lady_Lessa*

      I’ve noticed the same thing, that some men don’t notice and/or say things about appearances.

      And yes, sometimes people can be completely clueless about things, also.

      1. Jones*

        Maybe OP lucked out and is working with male colleagues that fully understand that a woman’s body in the workplace is not theirs to comment on. I don’t know why everyone is assuming the worst here.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        I would call it the opposite of clueless if someone knows not to notice or comment on appearances, particularly bodies.

    3. Hiring Mgr*

      I can understand that comment… There was a recent question about someone wearing the same outfit many days in a row, one of the topics in the discussion was whether men would even notice. Obviously this is a generalization but there are things some men don’t seem to pick up on as quickly.

      1. Jones*

        It’s still harmful to stereotype or as you prefer “generalize” entire demographics in to oversimplified observations. Besides, what someone is wearing is completely different than someone that may be in distress.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          Yes, but I can see how it might have made the stakes higher in a way for the OP in her mind… like “no one else would think to do anything” if the rest of the colleagues are men so she may have felt more of a burden to say something

    4. LW2*

      Lol this I was not expecting.

      I meant that I have some limited ability/obligation to reach out to a fellow underrepresented colleague in some narrow circumstances (probably not this one). Unrelated to gender, the norm in my field is to obliviously ignore grad students’ needs, so I could imagine no one reaching out.

      I’ve spent a lot of my career fighting that and pushing for more support for underrepresented grad students, which is why it stings to not be able to help in this instance.

  30. Can't think of a funny name*

    LW5, don’t list current if not at the job anymore. A few months ago I was hiring and I got a resume from an internal reference. The internal person mentioned that her friend was not currently working but the resume made it look like she was! This made me question the reason for the lie and what else might not be accurate. I asked the applicant about it and did get a plausible explanation and we don’t get many applicants for this job so I hired her and she’s been good but someone else might have passed on her without even asking about the discrepancy.

    1. Johanna Cabal*

      Was this a situation where she had an agreement to list the role as current with her previous employer despite being laid off/terminated? I ask because sometimes something like that can be negotiated. Or the previous employer agrees to list the employee as “current” while they receive severance.

  31. irene adler*

    For #3: many here have mentioned that “servant leader” is religious. I don’t know anything about that, but here in CA, Art Barter runs Servant Leadership Institute which uses the phrase.

    I’ve met Art; listened to a presentation from him about the concept, met someone who completed classes at SLI, and at no time were there obvious religious topics brought up. In fact, Gemba walks were discussed. The focus was on the many ways managers (at all levels) need to support those who do the work. This is via providing resources, training, listening, making sure employees are respected (incl. well compensated for the work), creating a work environment where workers thrive, taking a genuine interest in employee growth and well-being, etc.

    But Alison’s point is right on: ff “servant leader” activities drove the accomplishments, cite those accomplishments.

  32. silly little public health worker*

    lw2 – you’re kind to want to help, but as a person in long-term eating disorder recovery who spent their 20s in and out of treatment, please DO NOT say anything to this person. there’s a lot of advice above that points out some worst-case scenarios re: worsening of symptoms, but i also want to point out that if you say something to her boss, you may be inviting attention from her boss around her health. as we all know that can have some really not-great work consequences, especially in precarious, short-term positions in which recommendations can be the life or death of a career. people look all sorts of ways due to natural genetic variation, so she might be very thin and that’s just who she is. if it turns out she does have some variety of chronic illness or eating disorder, she probably doesn’t want her boss poking into what exactly is going on. there’s lots of GI conditions that would mean that someone gets nutrition in ways that aren’t typical (careful timing of meals, careful ingredient use that involves not eating in restaurants, g-tubes or something similar), and i’m sure you would hate for her boss to be focusing on something she can’t control rather than her work product.

    also want to just remind the commentariat that there’s not the look of an eating disorder! when i was anorexic, i was “overweight” and wouldn’t have been diagnosable as anorexic like 15 years ago due to flimsy diagnostic criteria that prioritize physical outcomes over manifesting symptoms. assumptions that thinness = eating disorder puts people who aren’t thin with eating disorders in some rough positions when they try to get help.

    1. Jen*

      Yes, this. I have a genetic issue that means I have long skinny limbs. I’ve filled out now that I’m middle aged, but I was severely underweight until I was 30.

      I was accustomed to people making comments about my weight and inquiring about eating disorders, but every comment hurt. And it really gave me a skewed sense of myself when I did gain some weight.

    2. Observer*

      but i also want to point out that if you say something to her boss, you may be inviting attention from her boss around her health. as we all know that can have some really not-great work consequences, especially in precarious, short-term positions in which recommendations can be the life or death of a career.

      I was thinking about this. It’s a very real issue, OP. If the folks there actually don’t notice, then “nudging” them to notice could have some pretty severe consequences for her career – and would actively damaging to her (and her health), no matter what hr actual diagnosis is.

  33. Little Miss Sunshine*

    Servant leadership is a core value of Agile project management. I can see the application in a non-secular setting, but it is totally a buzzword and in certain business disciplines across many industries. Avoid buzzwords at all costs! Focus on how you demonstrate this style and what you accomplished using it and you will get your point across much more effectively.

  34. Lacey*

    LW 2: I wouldn’t say anything. I have several family members who are extremely thin. So thin people think they are dying.

    But they’re not! It’s just a weird genetic thing and it gets super old for them to have everyone prying into their lives trying to figure out if they’re sick, starving themselves, or being abused.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      It all ties into this silly idea that there is One True Body Shape, I think. People come in different sizes.

    2. Heather*

      LW 2: I would try to align it in your own mind with someone having a different illness or disability. Like if a professional contact (someone you don’t really know) is audibly wheezing after climbing the stairs, you wouldn’t bring it up with them. You’d assume they are aware of their health and taking measures to address it. Since you aren’t friends with this woman, try to view her condition– whatever it is– in that same light.

  35. AnonInCanada*

    Re #1: This reminds me of one of our production team members who made several mistakes, cut corners, didn’t follow SOPs and was slow as molasses going uphill in January with a headwind. How he managed to stay with the company as long as he did is beyond me but I don’t do the hiring and firing around here. Anyhow, whenever we approached him to point out an error he clearly made, he would automatically quip “Not Me!”

    So I made him a nametag: “Hi, my name is Not Me!” He’s been the running joke of the company ever since he was let go a long time ago.

  36. Trek*

    OP1
    I think you’re going to draw hard boundaries with this employee. She not only doesn’t own her mistakes but she blames others. Even if in one instance she hadn’t made the mistake the fact that she blames others is very concerning. This is lying and doesn’t speak well of her character.

    You have to be able to trust what she’s saying. If something big happens i.e. someone causes a flood in the break room, it’s going to be hard to believe her when she says she didn’t do it because she had lied in other circumstances. I would approach it as Allison suggested but in follow up conversations I would probably add that I have to be able to trust what you are telling me and right now I cannot. This does not bode well for her future with your company.

    1. RC+Rascal*

      Excellent advice. Today she’s blaming and lying about small things that are relatively irrelevant. Tomorrow, however, it may be about something major and then it is going to be a huge issue.

    2. El l*

      Agree. Fundamentally, it’s arrogance, and arrogance is deeply harmful.

      But as annoying as arrogance is, the harm comes from elsewhere. Namely, they cannot adapt. Anything that’s wrong, it’s always either (a) “Not a problem,” or (b) “Not my fault.”

      They cannot learn from their mistakes. That’s why you can’t have arrogant people on your team.

  37. Xaraja*

    #3 I’m aware of “servant leader” having religious overtones, but I live in the south where it’s super common for almost everyone to be religious and that’s not what bothers me. In every case where I’ve seen someone use the phrase, they’ve been toxic. It’s a warning sign to me that’s similar to saying, “We’re all a family here.” Of course, that’s coming from an employee who is looking at what an employer said rather than whether it’s useful for a candidate to put the phrase on their resume.

  38. Olivia*

    #3 – To me, “servant leader” is Christianese nonsense. Almost every time I’ve heard it, it was from conservative Christian churches or individuals who use terms like that to try to sugarcoat or justify their patriarchal views. I.e., “Sure, we only let men be leaders, but it’s not *oppressive*, because it’s *servant* leadership–they’re servants, like Jesus!”

    I saw it used in an onboarding document at my current job and I found it really tone-deaf and troubling. Religious lingo like this doesn’t belong in secular job documents or resumes at all. And I’m surely not the only one who used to go to churches who said this kind of BS and who will have a lesser opinion of you if you use it. I’ve heard it used almost exclusively by sexist communities. That’s not an association you want the resume reader to have.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Ok, this makes a lot of sense thank you. I didn’t understand what they are even aiming for with that language. It reads to me like “leader of servants,” like it was calling his employees his servants and I was like… in what world is that remotely a reasonable thing to put on someone’s resume lol.

      1. Olivia*

        Yeah, basically the word “servant” is doing the work of trying to downplay the power that the leader has. Or at least that’s the implicit attempt, which is why it sets off alarm bells for me, and why, as Xaraja pointed out, it seems to be favored by toxic people and communities. There’s this false humility to it that makes me distrust those who use it.

  39. Observer*

    #2 – I know I’m repeating what others have said (I haven’t read the comments yet, but I know what happens when this subject comes up) but I think it’s crucial to really clearly understand something:

    Not only is there nothing you can do, the most likely result of any course of action that you might take is to do a great deal of harm to this young woman.

    Whatever her problem is, it’s unlikely that she’s unaware of it. Pointing it out, even by asking her if she’s ok and getting whatever help she needs, will only force her to confront the painful reality that her illness is GLARINGLY obvious. And that’s best case. Worst case? You help push her back into a vicious ED cycle.

    Asking her coworkers about it is even worse. There is simply no scenario where this does any good, and there are number of scenarios where this goes very, very badly. The fact that she’s one woman in a heavily male environment makes the potential for harm her exponentially greater.

    And if she IS dealing with ED and is in denial, all you can accomplish either way is to drive her deeper into her disease, while possibly ALSO doing processional harm. Yes, it’s not logical, but that’s the way this stuff works.

    I get that you mean well. And I’m glad you thought to ask before doing anything. But PLEASE, please accept that the answer is “No.” If she’s not getting the help she needs it is NOT because her coworkers haven’t pointed her in the direction of that help.

  40. MCMonkeyBean*

    I have personally witnessed someone’s application get tossed due to lying about still working somewhere. Definitely do not do it.

    Also this seems like something that could easily be found out during a background check.
    This was discussed in another thread recently but I think sometimes they get some amount of info from tax returns and/or paystubs, as my own most recent background check came back with a question about my recent employer’s name. I told them I worked for Product Manufacturing Company–which was the name on the application I filled out, the name on the side of the building I worked in, and the name in my email address and email signature. But their background check said instead that I worked at Product Services Company, which was I guess basically a payroll subsidiary and was the name on my paychecks and tax returns.

    So if you said you worked somewhere when you didn’t, that seems like something that would be obvious in whatever background check was run on me.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      There are so many ways it could come out – this may not be true in LW’s wife’s industry but where I am there’d be too big a risk someone has a contact at my old company and could check casually. Not worth it.

  41. Skinny*

    #3

    Just want to point out that the student may be naturally underweight.

    I’m naturally underweight. Aside from that, I’m healthy. I eat a normal amount of food (3 meals a day and snacks), but I try to avoid eating in front of coworkers because they comment on my weight and what I eat (they ignore junk food but make a big deal out of it if I eat anything healthy).

    I only wear long sleeves and long pants no matter how hot it is because I want to hide how skinny I am. I rolled up my sleeves once, and a coworker was shocked and concerned and wanted to know if I’d lost weight and was sick. It was embarrassing. Would not roll up my sleeves again.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t say anything. Whether she’s sick or not, I don’t think having someone who isn’t close to her point it out will help. Weight comments are hurtful.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      It is insanely inappropriate people think that they can concern troll your body in that way. That’s real “why would you say that” territory.

  42. Katie*

    LW2 – Don’t mention it. It’s fine that you are concerned but I am not sure how you can help even if there were a real problem.
    Last year, my daughter lost lots of weight because of a botched surgery. Anybody looking at her knew something was wrong. I didn’t need a random stranger telling me something was wrong and that I could get help for her to know something was wrong and that I could get help for her. Hell the real piece of advice I needed is something I even bite my tongue on now to other people.

  43. Sleepless KJ*

    #2 PLEASE don’t say anything. If the grad student has a health issue, her colleagues are already aware of it and it’s so incredibly not your place to get involved. My very close friend had terminal cancer and was determined to push through to get his degree – and he did! But by the last semester he joked that he looked like “Skeletor” and of course the people that needed to know what was going on with him knew – and those that didn’t know didn’t matter. Not. Your. Business.

  44. Annie*

    #2 is swirling up some feelings for me. I agree the OP shouldn’t say anything, but wonder if others have tips for handling this situation internally, eg one’s own emotions. I am in recovery and am pretty heavy now (that’s often how it goes when you make progress in recovery, it’s just reality) and I know everyone is on their own journey and this person’s ED has nothing to do with mine, but I would indeed find it highly, dangerously triggering to be around someone in this stage of their disorder. I feel bad even saying that – anyone have tips to get past that feeling?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Well what’s triggering to you? We have no idea this person has an ED. Do thin bodies trigger you generally speaking? That’s definitely something you need to work on with a therapist.

      If someone is actively going through something triggering to me, I’ve found distance and checking in with my grounding and coping strategies to be the best.

      1. Annie*

        I don’t want to go into too much detail about the thought process for fear of triggering others, but it would be the fact that this person feels no need for secrecy – she doesn’t eat in front of others. I would be thinking how I was so much better at keeping it secret and maybe I should start doing it again because I was so good at it. Part of what I struggle with in recovery is others who are not ‘subtle enough.’ Yes it’s messed up and it’s on me. Definitely helps to think of other things that could be causing it like other illnesses, and yes, definitely something I need to discuss with a professional counselor.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yep definitely talk to your counselor. You’re projecting a lot – it might help to remember this person may not be trying to hide anything or experiencing any kind of issues with food. I don’t eat in front of people at work quite often. It’s mostly an ADHD thing I legitimately forget but sometimes I eat at my desk and then join others for lunch socially if they’re getting together at another time. Or she could be sick and be on a very specific diet. Or she could be actively in recovery and eating in front of others is something she’s not ready for yet. I think it could be very helpful to think about the alternative explanations for something before jumping to conclusions, that might make it less triggering.

    2. Jessica*

      Annie, would it be helpful to you to think about some of the many examples people have put forth in this thread of reasons people might be extremely skinny without having an ED? Maybe that would give you some emotional distance from it and it wouldn’t be as distressing to think “there’s someone exactly where I was” if you could mentally reframe it as “this person might have any one of numerous conditions, some of which aren’t even a problem.”

      1. Annie*

        Yes, it definitely helps to reframe it that way. I would have to stay far away from this and remember it’s not my business.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      It sounds like the kind of thing you’d have to bring up with your professional people. They are the people who give you the tools to overcome triggers. I think that’s a big part of the treatment and not just a tip level deal. It’s good to recognize your triggers in advance and ask questions about that stuff imo.

      1. Annie*

        Yes, good point. Definitely something for me to bring up with professionals in case I find myself in this situation.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Have a 30+ year history struggling against anorexia (despite being obese these days I will still fall back) what I find works for me is essentially putting the information about someone else not eating etc into ‘I’ll deal with that later memory bank’. And then not accessing it until I speak to my mental health team.

      Now this is very close to ‘bottle it up and say nothing’ which really really isn’t healthy for a lot of people but it’s the only thing that works for me.

    5. Observer*

      but I would indeed find it highly, dangerously triggering to be around someone in this stage of their disorder. I feel bad even saying that – anyone have tips to get past that feeling?

      To be honest, I think that the best thing you can do, if you have access, is to go back to your therapist (or find a new one.)

      In any case, you pretty much need to treat it like any other trigger that you have no control over.

  45. Clearlier*

    #1 – It’s probably nothing to do with you but make sure that you’re creating an environment where taking ownership of mistakes is seen as a good thing. In one place that I worked people used to almost fight to take responsibility for going wrong. This wasn’t out of any misplaced sense of altruism but because often when something goes wrong more than one person could have saved it and the attitude an approach of everyone was to see where they could make a difference.

    It’s probably worth talking to your employee and explaining that fault is not what you’re looking for and that if they continue to spend time thinking about how to blame others then they won’t be focusing on finding solutions which is what it takes to be successful.

    The short version: make sure that you’re not playing the blame game. Tell your employee that you care about solutions and behave accordingly.

    1. Sara without an H*

      This is a good point. OP#1, if you do team meetings, check and see how people deal with problems. Is the culture one of problem solving or fault-finding? If the latter, you have some cultural issues to address.

      But if not, if your team culture is otherwise healthy and blame-shifting is limited to just one employee, you need to address it soon. I like Alison’s script, but you’ll need to make several applications — this is learned behavior and probably deeply engrained. But don’t let it drag on too long. You run the risk of reaching a point where you can’t take it any more and blow up at the employee. (NEVER ask me how I learned this…)

  46. a clockwork lemon*

    LW2 – When I was in undergrad, I got really sick. Like, dropped an alarming amount of weight in the span of a few weeks, was basically unable to keep food down at all, came home for spring break and my mom asked me if I needed to go to the hospital levels of sick (I wasn’t, but it took a very long time for us to diagnose and treat the underlying medical issue). It took me almost three years to gain the weight back, and it’s only ten years later that I’m starting to feel the physical sensation of hunger again.

    Whatever is going on with this grad student, she and the people who care about her almost certainly know she’s got something going on. Your best case scenario here is you make someone who is dealing with a medical scenario feel like her body is under scrutiny at her job. Please don’t say anything.

  47. Haley*

    #3, I believe the spirit of “servant leader” is that the leader is supposed to “serve” those they lead. Also think it is an over used term, but how it should in most cases how good leadership should be. Clearly it is a bad term if it is misconstrued in this manner.

  48. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    I’d like to gently push back on the idea that there’s nothing to be done about the student with the possible eating disorder. I’ve often heard from people in recovery that they feel that part of why they “got away” with their disordered eating for so long was that no one ever seemed to notice; i.e., “no one’s said anything, so this must be what my body’s supposed to look like/no one’s noticed I’m throwing up/no one cares.” Of course that isn’t always the case, but I wonder if there wouldn’t be some value in taking this student aside and saying something fairly neutral like, “Hey, I noticed that I never seem to see you eat with us and I wondered if everything was okay.” If they do have an eating disorder, they almost certainly won’t admit it, (they’ll probably say something like, “Oh no, I eat a ton when I’m at home and I’m just not hungry at work” or “I’m allergic to basically everything” or “I have a health condition which makes it difficult to eat away from home,” and any one of these may be true), but depending on their response you can say something like “Okay, let me know if you ever need more time to find something to eat in keeping with your dietary restrictions/health condition/whatever.”

    And then of course leave it. You certainly can’t push them to admit they have an eating disorder if that’s what’s going on (it’s both inappropriate to do so and would do more harm than good), but a gentle neutral notice may be very helpful to them.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      With gentle respect, your intentions are great but I can tell you that words like that, calling attention to me never eating in front of others (which I will still never do. Even my husband doesn’t see me eat) can cause a damaging spiral.

      Showing interest in the *person*, their work, who they are and not their body/eating patterns is a better option to just make someone feel more comfortable but with the proviso that it’s genuine interest and not a dressed up attempt to find out their problems (if they even have any).

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          What a graceful response! (Sincerely, thank you for listening). You’re doing fine :)

          As another expansion of the discussion- I’m visibly disabled. Sometimes it feels like all anyone ever wants to talk to me about is my body, what happened to it, what am I doing to live with it, have I tried…etc and again, while I am aware it’s often from a caring perspective, it can feel like the cane and disability is all there is to me. That nobody cares about who I actually am beyond that.

          Approaching someone who has a disability, or who you think has a health problem, or mental issue, or issue at home is kind of similar to me – it’s the person that needs accepting in all their myriad ways and not the visible ‘fault’.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        Ditto this! Especially since the OP does not have a relationship with this person, and it sounds like is only going to be in this location for a short time. I think the OP can be kind to the grad student and express interest and give compliments on work, etc. But don’t go over board either.

    2. a clockwork lemon*

      LW isn’t a coworker though, just a random person who sometimes has to come into the lab and periodically interacts with the grad student’s team. She says in her letter that she does not know the student she’s concerned about. It would be wildly out of place for her to approach LW or LW’s boss to essentially gossip about perceived medical conditions.

      1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

        Thank you for pointing this out! I must have missed the part where this student was not in the letter-writer’s professional orbit.

    3. Sylvan*

      This is a thoughtful comment and you’re definitely trying to help. But I want to encourage OP to leave the subject alone. Knowing that others are monitoring your food or weight can be triggering. Also, some of the things that would be wake-up calls to someone without an eating disorder are positive reinforcement to someone with an eating disorder.

    4. Tricksie*

      I work with and mentor college students and have a lot of close connections with them. I’ve also had experience dealing with anorexia in my own family, so I’ve read a ton of medical and psychological literature, worked with a specialized therapist on these issues for years, etc.

      I would NEVER say, “Hey, you look like you might have an eating disorder, do you eat, what’s up.”

      However, if I’m meeting with a student one on one and there are any signs they may have anorexia, I do talk about stress levels and anxiety, I ask about how they are taking care of themselves–if they are sleeping and eating normally. I talk about how sleep and food affect the brain and therefore affect their ability to succeed in school, etc. Sometimes when I’ve done this with a student I’m worried about, they will actually start to reveal things about their eating disorder. Then I can talk about the biological components of anorexia, the fact that they are more common with students who are also perfectionist/high achieving/high anxiety (this is exactly my student group). I can ask if they’ve ever considered therapy, guide them to campus resources, etc. I sometimes reveal that someone in my own family is in recovery from anorexia, and the techniques/tools we used to help them.

      So…there ARE ways to bring things up and to be helpful when you’re worried about this, depending on your relationship with the person and your approach. But it takes lots of care and knowledge and never accusing or pushing. And I think you already need to have rapport with the person and have some knowledge of eating disorders.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        This was pretty inspiring to read. I think this person-first, informed, sensitive, approach from someone in a position to advise is light years away from someone prompted by vague body or eating concerns, who doesn’t know anything about supporting an ED other than saying “Hey there do you have one?” and who is also a stranger…

    5. Mewtwo*

      Would this be effective to someone with an eating disorder, though?

      I take Adderall and for this reason don’t eat lunches – I just eat more for breakfast and dinner. It doesn’t mean I have an eating disorder though and I would be weirded out if someone pointed it out to be. (To be fair, I don’t look super skinny or anything, but still.)

      1. Ellis Bell*

        I don’t eat with others, and neither do some of my colleagues because of a bunch of allergies and health stuff. If I’m a new employee somewhere, and a boss or catering manager checks in with me about that? That’s totally fine and super thoughtful. If a visitor to the workplace is asking about why I haven’t raised an issue in a workplace they’re not even part of, even if the visitor is one with a lot of clout, that’s going to land a little differently.

    6. Observer*

      I’ve often heard from people in recovery that they feel that part of why they “got away” with their disordered eating for so long was that no one ever seemed to notice; i.e., “no one’s said anything, so this must be what my body’s supposed to look like/no one’s noticed I’m throwing up/no one cares.”

      I want to point out that this is often a product of distorted thinking rather than what actually happened. Because, if you notice, some of the “no one noticed” pieces are things that one would not expect anyone to notice. In other words, people DID “notice” that they were way too thin, but “didn’t notice that they were throwing up”, so “it’s OK”. And “no one said anything” really means “no one used this one phrase to me.” etc.

      I’m not saying that these people are lying. But if you listen to what people say about their actual reactions to the things that were said to them, it becomes clear just how distorted the thinking of people with ED’s can be.

      Did these people ever tell you how they responded to compliments on their weight or comments on their meals? Think about it from that perspective, and you’ll see what I mean. (And read the comments of some people here who have been through that mill.)

      And again, the problem here is that the risk of saying something is high, very, very high. Someone with an existing relationship where they know each other and have a level of trust might be able to say something, but not some random coworker who barely knows you. (A couple of people up above mentioned how this could look – but it definitely depends on the pre-existing relationship being in place.)

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Agreed. Here’s the things that actually helped me when I was at my not eating for months worst:

        1) people not confronting me
        2) people banning all diet/weight talk around me
        3) people just showing that they liked *me* – my interests, my sense of humour, my passion for quoting every episode of Star Trek next generation
        And 4) my awesome doctor who never once pushed anything on me but would just gently suggest things like ‘X food actually helps regulate/lose weight so eat more of that’

        The important bit with 4) was that he was my GP and knew my medical problems and even though I know now he was stretching the truth he did get me eating again and got me the other help I needed. But I doubt I would have accepted it from anyone else and frankly it was a struggle to believe him.

        It’s the same with self harm and abusive partners (two things I sadly also know far too well). Confrontational stuff doesn’t work. Making the person just feel wanted and appreciated as a person can do the world of difference.

  49. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    Servant Leadership (with the big S and the big L) is a 100% secular term discussed in university-level leadership studies. Is it used in religious settings and does it have Christian connotations? Yeah, it does. Unless the person reading the resume is in or has recently been in a leadership development program or has done reading on the topic, they won’t understand the term.

    Regardless of the definition being use though, it is subjective and vague. Instead, use things that show the results of your employee-focus (e.g. improved employee retention and lowered departmental turnover to 13.9% vs. location average of 26.2% or received XYZ award, recognized by direct reports for excellence in support and the ability to excel in times of change).

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I have an MBA in Leadership and I’ve never heard this term I feel like I’m in the twilight zone

      1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        Be thankful. The term is overused, and I literally roll my eyes whenever I hear a classmate use it. It was in favor back in the 1980s (which sort of (?) explains it’s problematic and exclusionary name) and has made a resurgence in the past 10-20 years.

        It reminds me of charismatic leadership because you can’t really measure it and the description is sorta a “You know it when you see it” thing. FTR I am what would be described as a “servant leader” but would never, ever use the term to a) describe myself, and b) never ever use it on a resume.

    2. Esmeralda*

      The term has been used at my institution, a large public state university (R-1) for many many years. At least twenty years. It’s been offered workshops etc. in leadership development for students and staff.

      Explicitly secular in this setting.

    3. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I think in this case its the resume service just using catchy phrases. Does the person even have the qualities, etc of someone in servant leadership?

      However, if the person was someone who is a servant leader, I think it’s a “know your audience” type of thing. Applying to for a job at a university (especially if they have a leadership program) it would be a good idea to use the phrase. Applying at a tech start-up that as far as you can tell doesn’t have any philosophical background, probably don’t use that term.

      especially since so many people think it has religious context.

  50. Lilo*

    I feel like Alison gets a ton of letters about those resume services where they just make a ton of errors. It just seems like, at best, a waste of money and potentially disastrous.

    Just don’t.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I don’t love that line of logic. People don’t write into advice columns when things go right – by the same note you’ll never have a good manager in your life and HR is always incompetent. There’s always a risk with these kind of things but I do want to note the possibility that commenters here in recruitment and resume services aren’t all terrible.

      1. Lilo*

        But there’s a LOT of reasons not to use these. One is you should be intimately aware of everything on your resume. If I ask you about something in your resume, you should answer it. If you hire someone you won’t know it as well.

        A resume writer also simply isn’t going to characterize things really accurately. They don’t know your buzzwords or really what you did at your job. The chance of inaccurate stuff showing up in your resume is higher.

        Also, to sell themselves these companies may be pushing “innovation”. That’s not how you want your resume to be. Creativity in a resume can be a very bad thing.

        And then we have letters where people have taken someone’s money and just made everything worse. So bot only are you out whatever fee, you’re sending out a bad resume.

        Alison has a TON of free resources. If you’re in a very specific field (like a medical CV) sure. But honestly, just don’t.

    2. El l*

      Resume is part of your self-presentation – just like your clothing, your manner of speaking, and (gulp, sadly, yes) your LinkedIn profile.

      Accepting advice on self-presentation is good. But outsourcing them to somebody else is always a terrible idea.

      Because it is too important a job to leave to somebody else.

  51. Deservedly Embarrassed*